The League of Women Voters strongly supports S.B. 603. We have felt from the start that charter schools would be a welcome addition to public education in Hawaii, and we have been anxious to see them succeed. We do not feel they have been given full opportunity to succeed, however, due to the fact that they are controlled by the Board of Education and the Department of Education. This has sometimes meant indifference and a lack of support; sometimes insufficient oversight; sometimes inadequate and ill timed funding; and sometimes ill concealed hostility and harassment.
Actually, this is not too surprising. Charter schools and boards of education everywhere are natural enemies. After all, even when not made openly explicit, charter schools were created in criticism of boards and their operation of schools. Had people been satisfied with the way boards ran schools, charter schools would never have been created -- and would not exist today in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Here in Hawaii, people seem surprised when the same sort of aloha that marks other relationships does not seem to permeate BOE/DOE relationships with charter schools. It hasn't and it won't. Charter schools, in the words of their main theorist, "took away the exclusive franchise of boards of education" to run all public schools. So it seems naive to expect the relationship between these two entities to ever be cordial and smooth.
That's why we think it's such a good idea that the review panel and the administrative office assume some initial functions with respect to charter schools -- not eliminating the BOE but assigning it a somewhat more remote, appeals role. We also agree with the bill's authors that the Board of Education is simply too busy, with its many other responsibilities, to give the charter schools the attention they need in the form of support and oversight. For with the duties of a state board, as well as those elsewhere handled by local boards, it is not surprising that the BOE has been unable to conduct even such minimal functions as the evaluations called for by the charter school law every four years.
In other states, such matters are handled by naming multiple authorizers of charter schools, who then handle support and oversight as needed. Elsewhere, universities, both public and private, serve as authorizers, as do municipal offices, and foundations and other nonprofit organizations. Since Hawaii's constitution precludes this, we find S.B. 603 a good compromise and we urge its passage.