funding list will be
revealed tomorrow

The new procedures in
divvying up school money will
result in winners and losers

A new way to divide money among Hawaii's public schools -- including a list of which campuses would gain and which would lose -- will be unveiled tomorrow at a Board of Education committee.

Schools panel meets tomorrow

The Board of Education's Committee on the Reinventing Education Act will meet at 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Queen Liliuokalani Building, 1390 Miller St., Room 404.

It will consider a new student-based budget system that allocates more money for students who cost more to educate because of characteristics such as:

» Poverty.
» English as a second language.
» Age.
» Transiency.

It also makes adjustments for geographic isolation, multitrack schools and small schools.

The "weighted student formula" is designed to make sure money is given to schools based on the needs of their students.

Students who cost more to educate, including the disadvantaged and those still learning English, would bring more money to their schools.

The idea of student-based budgeting has won praise across the political spectrum, but as the bottom line emerges, it promises to be controversial.

Because the size of the money pot will not change, just how it is doled out, there will inevitably be winners and losers.

"If you've been used to a bigger scoop of rice and you go to a standard scoop, it's going to feel like you're getting less, because you are," said Robert Campbell, project manager for the weighted student formula.

"Current levels of funding are not uniform," he said. "Some schools, even when you factor in the number of economically disadvantaged students, have been getting a disproportionately higher or lower amount of funding than very similar schools."

Under traditional budgeting, there is no easy way to figure out whether campuses are getting their fair share. The new student-based budgeting is supposed to make clear exactly who is getting what and why.

The new system will not take effect until the 2006-07 school year. The board has moved slowly on making a decision due to the controversial nature of the issue, but it needs to approve the formula next month to allow schools time to prepare their financial and academic plans.

The formula is a key part of the Reinventing Education Act of 2004, which gives schools more say in how their money is spent.

"It's going to cause a lot of schools, whether they gain or lose money, to rethink how they're delivering educational services," Campbell said.

"Do I really need this, or would something work better than this?"

The formula was developed by a broad-based Committee on Weights, made up of principals, teachers, parents and others, and headed by Bruce Coppa, managing director of Pacific Resource Partnership.

Possible scenarios were posted on the Department of Education's Web site earlier this year, with different weighting systems, causing an outcry from a few schools that stood to lose up to a quarter of their funds.

Some of the affected schools are among the 24 campuses -- mostly in low-income areas -- now undergoing schoolwide reform for repeatedly failing to meet state and federal performance criteria.

But the formula has been fine-tuned since then.

"We've gone way beyond the Committee on Weights numbers that were posted on the Web," said Randy Moore, project manager for the Reinventing Education Act.

"People should just cool their jets until Wednesday's meeting."

For example, middle schools as a group appeared to suffer under an earlier version of the formula, with far more "losers" than "winners." The new version ensures that all middle schools as a whole neither gain nor lose, and the same for high schools taken in the aggregate, as well as elementary schools, Moore said.

The budget changes will also be phased in over three years to cushion their impact.

The weighted formula will apply to nearly half of the Department of Education budget. Programs such as special education and athletics will not be subject to it.

The formula now includes weights for poverty, English as a second language, grade level, transiency and multitrack schools. It also makes adjustments for small schools, which have higher overhead costs, and for geographic isolation.

At Nanakuli High & Intermediate School, science teacher Franklin Allaire was floored to discover that one early scenario of the formula would have his school -- with most students coming from low-income backgrounds -- lose close to $1 million a year.

"That should not be an option for any school, really, especially a school that needs it the most," he said. "Because it really does come down to what is going to be best for the children. That would really hurt the children who already struggle so much. We have students that are coming from foster homes or even living on the beach."

But he supports student-based budgeting, saying it will "give everybody a better idea of what is going on" and might help bring disparities to light.

"My most immediate concern is that the formula be equitable for all of the students across Hawaii," he said. "In the past, it seems that however they chose to fund schools has really benefited the students and schools that have the most -- schools that are in more affluent neighborhoods and perhaps those with political and business connections."

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