The task force was directed to find some answers to the accountability and authority problems that have plagued the charter school system for years.
Hawaii Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda told Civil Beat that she doesn’t want to go into too many details yet, because the task force is not finished yet and she doesn’t want anyone to hear its suggestions out of the context of how the members arrived at their conclusions.
“What I can tell you is that we’re really looking at strengthening the roles and responsibility of the authorizer,” she said.
Right now, the Hawaii Charter School Review Panel is the only agency that can authorize new charter schools and hold them accountable. But soon there will be others, based on the task force’s recommendations.
“We have paved the way so that in the future you can have multiple authorizers,” Tokuda said. “We’re actually redoing the composition of the panel and renaming it.”
There are currently 32 charter schools in the state, and it doesn’t look like any of the recommendations will dramatically change their number in the near future. State law currently lets the Charter School Review Panel charter up to three start-up schools for every existing charter school that is accredited, and to authorize up to 25 charter conversions from existing regular public schools.
“I don’t believe new caps will be necessary,” Tokuda said. “The ultimate cap is a strong application process and strong performance contracts that will make sure good charters get through.”
While that may be difficult for some charter school advocates to accept, Tokuda said, bigger in this case is not necessarily better. Meaningful applications and strong performance evaluations will not foster a big charter school network, but they should foster a good one.
Meanwhile, several schools whose charters are up for renewal this year may not get to renew just yet. The task force is encouraging the review panel to hold off until next year when it can attach performance contracts to the renewals.
Performance contracts are what the Charter Schools Administrative Office director says he is most excited about.
“I think a lot of the community is getting on board with the concept that there should be a performance contract for every school,” Roger McKeague told Civil Beat. “An initial application is one thing, but there should be a document that is a contract, that protects the school by providing clarity in expectations.”
He said the performance contracts will include standard boilerplate elements, but that schools will also likely get to negotiate certain parts of their contract — like what the expected academic outcomes are each year. He said such contracts can protect a school by ensuring they are not held responsible for delivering results they never agreed to.
But the task force’s biggest accomplishment will be clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies and officials involved in operating the charter school system, McKeague said, and codifying those into the law.
Tokuda said that, come legislative session, she will be just as concerned with outlining and funding an implementation plan as she is with the proposed law itself. The last thing she wants is a substantive law that falls by the wayside because it’s never executed properly.
After the task force wraps up the details of its recommendations, various members plan to go on the road to educate schools and parents about what will happen.
“At the end of the day, what’s best for student will be achieved with all of us knowing clearly what our roles and responsibilities are,” Tokuda said.
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