Hawaii Chartering 20 Years Later: A Policy of One

Having toured six charter public schools in Hawaii, there are three things I especially appreciate about Hawaii chartering. I see great innovation; I see opportunity for culturally-focused charter schools to thrive; and I see real passion for their schools among chartering educators, students, and families.

I also see only 34 charter public schools on the islands, despite great demand from families. Why? Over 20 years, chartering policy has strayed from its Hawaii origins, and from every other chartering state in the union. The result? Chartering autonomy is compromised in ways not seen elsewhere:

One Authorizer vs. Multiple Authorizers. Hawaii has one charter school commission that authorizes all its charter schools. There is no other authorizer, not even individual school districts, because there are no school districts. All education is centralized in the state government. Although Hawaii law allows for multiple authorizers, a second authorizer has not been established.

Authorizer Funded by State, Not Schools. The single authorizer is funded by state appropriation. In other states, where multiple authorizers exist, charter schools fund their chosen authorizer with up to 3% of per pupil funding. This per pupil funding model existed in Hawaii before it was changed.

Funding Controlled by Authorizer, not DOE. In Hawaii, the single authorizer has power to distribute (or withhold) per pupil funds from the charter school. In other states, funds are distributed directly to the charter school from the state, without going through the authorizer. The authorizer‘s normal role is to hold the charter school accountable to performance standards, or it may be closed. It has no power over funding distribution.

Standard vs. Negotiated Charter Agreements. In Hawaii, there is one standard charter agreement offered by the commission to every charter school. Charter agreements are not negotiable. This eliminates the fundamental autonomy of chartering, where every charter school has opportunity to negotiate performance outcomes with its authorizer to fit its specific mission and learning strategies.

Nonprofit vs. state-controlled board. In Hawaii, charter school boards are extensions of the state. In all other states, charter schools are nonprofit organizations governed by a board of directors with fiduciary duties of accountability.

I’m pleased that the policymakers, state board of education members and others I met with in Hawaii last week engaged in good discussions about these differences and their impact on the success of chartering in Hawaii. Changes are underway to bring chartering back to its origins in Hawaii. It is a privilege to be a resource for that effort.