Hawaii Chartering Pioneers

When I traveled to Hawaii last week to work with charter school leaders and education policymakers, I didn’t expect to meet the lawmakers who first championed chartering in Hawaii back in 1994, more than 20 years ago. And I certainly didn’t expect to meet them in the office of the current Democratic governor, David Y. Ige.

But there they were. The two lawmakers who made chartering happen were none other than then-Representative David Y. Ige and then-senator Mike McCartney, currently chief of staff to Governor Ige.

Though I was not able to personally meet the governor, former senator McCartney was more than willing to bring out the House and Senate Journals documenting the historic debate in 1994. (see photos). It was the longest speech that Rep. Ige ever gave in the House–nearly 35 minutes! Other members yielded their speaking time to him so he could exceed the ten-minute limit. Rep. Ige was chair of the Education Committee at the time and was responding to a public outcry for change in K-12 education in Hawaii.

I noted that they didn’t call the new schools charter schools, but rather “student-centered schools.” We did the same thing In Minnesota. We avoided the words “charter schools” in our first law; we called them “outcome-based schools.” It was only years later when they were more accepted that we changed the language of our law.

But the message of chartering in Hawaii was the same. It was almost as if we made the same speeches thousands of miles apart. Here is a sampling:

“As we have gone statewide to take public testimony on ways to improve the public school system, one thing came across loud and clear–SET ME FREE!”

“So what does (the bill) do? It provides an opportunity for absolute school empowerment. We’re providing for twenty-five schools to be free from the public school system, to develop a program that is student outcome and performance based, to establish a local school board limited to dealing with only school policies and setting goals and evaluations. We provide the schools the ultimate waiver… we’re asking the system to give these schools the per-pupil expenditure that we currently make and ask them to do the best that they can on behalf of our children.”

“This is not an open-ended thing. They will have to prove, based on performance, that they are doing a good job on behalf of the students. We also provide, as part of this measure, performance standards.”

Meeting chartering pioneer and Chief of Staff Mike McCartney was a highlight of my visit. We share a bond of traveling the same path and fighting the same historic battles.

Unfortunately, Hawaii chartering policy has changed over the years, holding back its charter sector. Is it time to help return chartering to its Hawaii origins? Check out Thursday’s blogpost.