Experts Give Kudos To Proposed Charter School System Overhaul

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

Hawaii's recommendations to revamp the state charter school system would go a long way toward correcting accountability problems, four national experts told legislators at a briefing Wednesday.

But there's still room for improvement, they say, including finding a way to make sure charter schools get the same funding as regular public schools.

A state task force on charter school governance in December made 16 recommendations that would tighten regulations and provide a new way to oversee the schools that, while public, operate independently under charters with the state.

"All of these things, we think, are tremendous steps forward," said Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

"The idea behind charter schools is that autonomy and accountability will produce better results," he said.

But while Hawaii's 15-year-old charter school system is strong in terms of autonomy, Richmond said — with the exception that charter employees are required by law to be employees of the state — it has lacked accountability.

"In practice, there's been virtually zero accountability," he said. "The autonomy piece was there without accountability. Which means the schools were operating without any oversight."

This meant charter schools were starting up without any idea of what their objectives were, Richmond explained, or the standards by which their success would be measured.

The task force recommends ditching the old law, which has evolved over time into what Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda called "a Frankenstein," in favor of a comprehensive replacement.

The proposals would clarify expectations and responsibilities for every level of the charter school system, from the Hawaii State Board of Education and the state authorizing agency, down to the schools and their governing boards.

The recommendations, some of which will be part of a charter school omnibus bill this coming legislative session, include:

  • Eliminating the Charter School Administrative Office.
  • Strengthening the role of the Charter School Review Panel, which is currently tasked with authorizing charter schools and holding them accountable; adding staff to support its responsibilities; and changing its name to the Public Charter School Commission.
  • Allowing more than one agency to authorize charter schools.
  • Introducing performance contracts for schools with their authorizers.
  • Placing more administrative responsibilities, like payroll, data reporting and technical support, at the school level.
  • Getting uniform reporting systems so charter school data can be compared with data from regular public schools.
  • Changing charter schools' "local school boards" to "governing boards."
  • Representation of certain skill sets on the governing boards, such as at least one member with accounting skills, one with business skills, etc.

Stephanie Shipton, an education policy analyst for the National Governor's Association, said she is certain that thoughtful and faithful implementation of the proposed reforms would strengthen and expand the charter school system.

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