Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Task force begins evaluation of charter school operations

By Mary Vorsino


A new legislative task force aimed at improving charter school accountability and governance met for the first time Wednesday, pledging to make recommendations that will be translated into action.

"The one thing we don't want to see is a nice report that sits on a shelf," state Sen. Jill Tokuda, co-chairwoman of the group, said at the meeting. "This represents for us an opportunity to take a slight step back and do a concrete analysis of the system."

The task force, made up of members of the charter school community, the Department of Education, the Board of Education and lawmakers, will draft a report before next year's legislative session.

The group's duties include developing draft legislation or administrative rules that clearly define the governance structures of charter school organizations; identifying oversight and monitoring responsibilities of those entities; and discussing funding-related issues.

About 5 percent of public school children — or some 8,200 students — attend charter schools, which are publicly funded but are not under the education department. Instead, their charters are overseen by local school boards whose authority can be revoked by the Charter School Review Panel.

The state's 31 charter schools are seen as real-life labs to test innovative approaches to education.

"It is a place where you see good education practice and reflection," said state Rep. Della Au Belatti, co-chairwoman of the task force.

The group, formed in the last legislative session, was seen as a way of analyzing piecemeal charter school governance structures and figuring how to bring them together while better identifying the roles of various oversight entities.

Members said the group will also study charter school operations in other states and consider alternative models, such as having multiple agencies that can authorize charters (rather than just the Charter School Review Panel).

"I think it's a time to say what is working and what isn't working," said Roger McKeague, executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office. "This is an innovative approach to education. It's different. And because it is, it's hard to define."

The task force is meeting during a difficult time for Hawaii charter schools, some of which have faced scrutiny for questionable management practices and poor student performance. Other charter schools, meanwhile, are seeing gains in student performance.

Tokuda stressed Wednesday that the group's role is not to focus on any particular campus.

"In no way is this meant to be punitive or questioning or investigational toward any particular charter school," she said. "(It's about), How can we make changes for the whole system?"

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