Charter schools
measure rejected

Gov. Linda Lingle's plan to reform and expand the public charter-school system suffered a crippling blow Wednesday when a House committee gave it the thumbs-down.

But several separate bills aimed at shoring up the semiautonomous public schools remain in play and might ultimately allow both Lingle and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to claim credit.

In her State of the State address last month, Lingle called for an increase in the number of charter schools. There are about 25 new schools and 23 converted schools now operating.

Her bill also would have placed charter schools under a separate authority whose members would have been appointed by the governor, weakening the Department of Education's authority.

But members of the House Education Committee balked at restructuring the system until the schools' more immediate needs can be met, and effectively killed the bill.

"It might be too much, too soon, given all the issues we're seeing with the schools now," said Committee Chair Roy Takumi. "Let's not worry about the furniture until the house is built."

Charter schools are self-governing and enjoy wide discretion on spending and curriculum decisions. But they forfeit state support in areas such as facilities costs and financial management.

As a result, Hawaii charter schools have scored higher on standardized tests than regular public schools, but some of them are beset by financial difficulties.

Legislators will review a number of other bills next week that would increase funding for charter schools, provide worker's compensation coverage to their employees and clarify state charter-school policies, among other things.

"We're encouraged that legislators are willing to look at elements of what we had and consider taking those separately," said Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser.

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