Isle schools need $34 million boost, committee finds

HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

Isle schools need $34 million boost, committee finds

By Nanea Kalani

Public schools will need an additional $34 million next year to help meet increasing demands with new teacher evaluations, tougher curriculum and other initiatives, according to a committee that analyzes the per-pupil funding Hawaii schools receive.

The money is spent at the school level and is mainly used for payroll. It also can cover special projects and programs or supplies and equipment.

More than 50 percent of the Department of Education’s general fund budget goes toward the so-called weighted student formula. This year, the funding amounts to $761 million based on enrollment of about 178,000 students. (Charter schools do not receive allocations.)

Next year, schools are expected to get fewer dollars when the state raises the age requirement for kindergarten and eliminates junior kindergarten. The move — expected to lower overall enrollment by about 5,100 students — will shrink the funding pot that pays out the per-pupil funds to 252 schools.

Lawmakers created the funding method in 2004 as a means to ensure that funds go to schools with the greatest needs, acknowledging that some students cost more to educate. The formula assigns “weights” to various student characteristics, and principals have discretion over the spending.

Schools get a set amount of base funds — ranging from $200,000 for elementary schools to $465,500 for K-12 combination schools — from the pot. Those with higher enrollments of special-needs and economically disadvantaged students get additional funds, as do schools with higher populations of English-language learners and transient students. Neighbor island schools also receive more money.

Suzanne Mulcahy served as chairwoman of this year’s Committee on Weights, which meets every other year to review the formula. She compared the funding mechanism to a wedding cake, with the bottom tier representing the base funds schools get.

“From there, some schools will have a five-layer cake, some will have three layers,” said Mulcahy, complex area superintendent for the Kailua-Kalaheo complex.

Campbell High in West Oahu, the state’s largest high school with close to 2,900 students, is receiving the most per-pupil funds this year, a little more than $11 million. Kilohana Elementary on Molokai, with fewer than 90 students, has the smallest appropriation, at $535,513.

The Committee on Weights is not recommending any changes to the existing formula for the upcoming 2014-15 school year, Mulcahy told the Board of Education on Tuesday.

The committee is instead proposing the BOE ask legislators in January for an additional $34 million to increase the base funds schools get. That breaks down to $135,000 per school — roughly the cost of adding a vice principal and teacher position.

“Additional funding is needed to provide a successful system of supports to ensure student and staff success,” the committee said in its report to the board. “The committee … recommends additional funding be used for an additional educational officer and teacher support position.”

The committee cited higher demands placed on schools in the coming school year with various educational reforms, including the DOE’s new school accountability system, new curriculum standards, updated student assessments, more rigorous graduation requirements, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education, said she has been meeting with school principals statewide since July to get feedback on the weighted approach to financing schools.

“A really big concern I kept hearing is that we just don’t have adequate funds to do the things being asked of us, whether it’s prescribed through mandates … or just being innovative for students,” Tokuda said. “The resources just aren’t there. The bucket’s just not big enough.”

Tokuda, who also sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said she would be open to a request for supplemental funds for the coming budget year.

“I appreciate the Committee on Weights recognizing that some targeted relief is necessary across the board for all schools,” she said. “Will the Legislature be able to provide that? I definitely think it’s something we have to try for. I think it’s a good start.”

In the two-year state budget lawmakers passed in May, $746 million in weighted student formula funds was approved for next year based on the anticipated decrease in kindergarten students. If the suggested $34 million for base funds is added in, the pot would grow to $780.3 million.

The Board of Education’s finance committee deferred action on the recommendation at its Tuesday meeting and will take it up again next month. BOE member Jim Williams asked if Department of Education officials agreed with the recommendation to seek the extra $34 million.

Chief Financial Officer Amy Kuntz said the department is reviewing the proposal as it prepares a supplemental budget request for lawmakers ahead of January’s legislative session.

weighted student formula