The accounting practices of the State Public Charter School Commission came under scrutiny during a legislative budget hearing at the Capitol.

The commission, which collects and distributes funds to the state’s 34 charter schools, keeps its funds in Bank of Hawaii accounts.

No other state department or agency is able to hold its funds in private accounts, Sen. Jill Tokuda said at the hearing. She chairs of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. 

Malama Honua Charter School students read books. Waimanalo. 22 dec 2016

Students read books at Malama Honua Charter School, which operates in two Waimanalo churches.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We don’t even know how much you’re actually distributing because we have no transparency into that fund, it’s privately held,” she said.

She said the funds should be taken out of private accounts “immediately.”

Sione Thompson, who was recently hired as executive director of the commission, said he will bring the issue back to the full commission.

“We received a lot of great advice today,” Thompson said after the Friday hearing.

Tokuda insisted that the possible approval of funds requested by the commission would be contingent on the it creating a public account.

The charter school commission asked the Legislature for additional appropriations of about $6.3 million for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

About $5.5 million would be for facilities, the top priority of the commission, according to the budget request.

Unlike regular Department of Education schools, many charter schools rent their facilities — some from churches. Lack of facilities has been a frequent problem for many charter schools.

Charter schools don’t get a special fund to pay for facilities. Instead, facility funds come entirely from a per-pupil formula. In fact, most of their state funds are based on the formula, which amounts to $7,089 per student.

Subsidizing or supplanting that would tremendously help their operational costs and allow growth,” Thompson said.

The commission added the amount each school pays to rent its facilities to get the roughly $5.5 million amount, Thompson said.

The money would go toward continuing to rent facilities, rather than buying property, according to the budget request.

If the Legislature approves the roughly $5.5 million requested for facilities, Tokuda said the money cannot be held in a private account.

The commission also requested $579,000 to provide incentive pay for hard-to-staff schools, and $90,000 for National Board Certified Teacher awards. The awards are statutorily mandated, and charter schools currently use the per-pupil finds for the awards.

Other requests included $200,000 as start-up funds for new charter schools and $112,000 more for commission staff salaries.

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