[ OUR OPINION ]
just a starting point
for ed reform
NO SURPRISE that the committee Governor Lingle appointed produced a plan for education reform that mirrors the blueprint she proposed initially. Composed of like-minded individuals, the panel's model advocates principals controlling spending at their schools, a new formula for funding based on each student's needs and local school boards to replace the current statewide body.
The plan by the Lingle-appointed committee for public schools contains what the governor herself proposed.
Lingle's model, with its shortcomings and contentious points, should be considered a starting point from which necessary changes in public education is debated when the state Legislature reconvenes next month.
Although the governor's group conducted meetings across the state, ostensibly to gather public opinion about education reform, no new elements were added to its basic plan, leading Board of Education Chairman Breene Harimoto to remark that the committee had "perhaps a slanted view to begin with." Be that as it may, the proposals -- along with those from the Department of Education and the Legislature -- should be weighed for their merits without claim for political points. To succeed, development of a reform plan should expand to include good ideas from all quarters.
The so-called weighted student formula, by which schools would receive funding, appears to have general support. Legislators, school administrators and educators have embraced the formula that assigns certain amounts to each student based on various factors such as family income, special education, language barriers and special talents.
Having principals control school budgets also seems to have some agreement, although collective bargaining, supervisory authority to hire and fire teachers, pay levels and accountability issues remain unresolved.
The biggest battle line has been drawn with the proposal for local school boards that would directly govern school districts while a statewide board sets education standards and oversees financial accounting.
Committee member Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, was the sole voice of dissent on the matter, saying local boards won't have any effect on student achievement and will swell the very bureaucracy the panel wants to eliminate. Indeed, the committee has not made clear how local boards connect to more funds flowing to the classroom. The governor needs to explain the correlation in detail.
In addition, Lingle should clarify how authority would be divided between local and statewide boards. The committee has the statewide board establishing academic standards, as would be best for compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind criteria, but seems to leave curricula to local boards.
One of the panel's better proposals would be to extract legislators and the governor from direct control over education funding, a practice that has often led to diffusion of priorities and pork-barrel projects. Lawmakers would set a total budget, but let school authorities figure out how best to spend it. The governor, however, would still retain power by deciding whether to release funds and this may become a sticking point for legislators unwilling to relinquish fiscal muscle.