Charter school funds spread thin
The budget will grow more slowly than the increase in students
Hawaii's charter schools, already preparing to get less state money per student next academic year, will have to share their budget with yet another school that gained approval to open its doors.
Hawaii Technology Academy will be among four new alternative schools that will tap into a proposed $56.1 million charter budget in the 2008-09 school year.
The academy, which expects to enroll up to 250 students on Oahu, was selected by the Charter School Review Panel last Thursday to fill the last of three available slots for startup charters this year, said panel Chairman Alvin Parker.
The two other startups are Kawaikini New Century, a Hawaiian-language immersion school slated for Kauai, and Kona Pacific on the Big Island. Kamaile Elementary, a regular Department of Education school in Waianae that became a charter this year, brings the number of charters to 31.
While the state's charter budget will grow by about $5 million next school year, the appropriation is $15.8 million short of what charters had sought from Gov. Linda Lingle, and per-pupil funding is predicted to drop because of increased enrollment.
Under the proposed allocation, some 8,000 charter schools students would each get about $7,000 next year, down $1,000 from what is given to 6,239 students today, said Bob Roberts, chief financial officer for the charters.
Lingle's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, acknowledged enrollment projections for charters have risen since the administration finalized its executive budget. She said the administration is working with lawmakers to check whether any adjustments can be made.
"What we are trying to do is see how we can increase that per-student amount," Smith said.
Dozens of charter school students held a rally at the state Capitol last week to lobby for funds, but Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, said it is unlikely money would be added to the budget so close to the end of the legislative session.
Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said she was surprised to learn about Hawaii Technology Academy's approval "late last week."
"We ought to rewrite the entire charter funding mechanism," she said. "It doesn't give either the Legislature or the charters any comfort in predictability."
Parker, who is also the principal of Ka Waihona O Ka Naauao Public Charter School in Nanakuli, said his school stands to lose $533,000. As chairman of the review panel, Parker said he was aware that authorizing four more charters would affect his school's finances.
"I knew I was going to hurt my school," he said, "but that's not the applicants' concern. They want to have a charter school, and they put their very best foot forward and they deserve for us to be ethical about it."
Charter schools enjoy autonomy from the Education Department on curriculum, spending and personnel decisions. Historically, there has been concern that charter school students have gotten less money than traditional public school students, who were each funded by about $11,531 in the 2006-07 school year.
But charter schools get extra money for special education and other services from the Education Department, making the funding comparison difficult to make, officials say.