Public schools located outside of Oahu could see extra money coming their way starting next school year under a school funding recommendation being considered by the Hawaii Board of Education on Thursday.

The proposal concerns the weighted student formula, the funding mechanism for Hawaii Department of Education schools.

Nearly all 256 non-charter DOE schools get a base amount of funding determined by the total number of students enrolled, plus additional funding based on certain student demographics or “weights” like being English language learners or economically disadvantaged. Multi-track, or year-round schools, and those located on neighbor islands are also “weighted” with more funds.

The DOE is proposing that students going to school outside Oahu be assigned $17.82 more in funding — double the current amount allotted for a neighbor island “weight.” This would pump an additional $970,000 to neighbor island schools — most of which are rural and geographically remote — on a yearly basis.

Molokai High School Administration Building.
Molokai High School, which has a student enrollment of 322 this year, would receive roughly $5,700 in additional funding next year under the proposal. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“It gives us a base point to start from, so this is very good,” said Rep. Lynn DeCoite, whose district covers East Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Neighbor island students, which number approximately 54,415, account for about 30% of the Department of Education’s total student population of 179,000.

The rationale for the doubling in weight, according to a report compiled by a DOE committee on weights, is the added costs associated with operating a school outside the urban hub of Oahu. That includes additional gas and mileage to cover travel for athletic events, field trips or professional development for staff.

The measure is the most concrete adjustment to the weighted student formula to come out of the current committee on weights, which meets every other year. The 16-member committee, consisting of principals, teachers, administrators and community members, met five times between May and July to evaluate Hawaii’s weighted student formula.

The formula has been used by the DOE since 2006 to determine how much money each DOE school receives.

Each DOE student has an assigned base value of $4,480. That figure will rise depending on number of weights each student qualifies for. In the grand scheme of things, a neighbor island weight, which is currently set at 0.004, is minuscule compared with an economic disadvantage weight of 0.1 or a gifted & talented weight of 0.265.

This would be the first time since a neighbor island “weight” was implemented in 2008 that the category will see any major adjustment.

Other proposed changes from this year’s committee on weights include prioritizing any additional DOE funding approved by the 2020 Legislature to boost funding for English language learners and homeless students.

The Board of Education, which shapes DOE policy, will vote on the committee’s recommendations at Thursday’s meeting.

Administrators at some of the most rural and geographically isolated schools have argued the weighted student formula doesn’t sufficiently cover their operating costs, especially if the schools covers multiple grade levels.

Ward Mardfin, a Hana resident and former school community council member of Hana High & Elementary, a K-12 school, cautiously praised the proposed revision. “It will mean a few more bucks for Hana, but not that many,” he said. “It will be very good for the other schools.”

The committee’s English language proposal — if legislative appropriations come through — would boost spending on a non-English proficient student by $883.50 and a student with limited English proficiency by $441.75 — for a total estimated increase of $10 million. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto made improving support and services for English learners one of her priorities when she started her role in 2017.

Hawaii has an estimated 17,563 English language learners, or about 9% of its total student population.

The committee has also recommended adding a new weighted factor for the state’s homeless students, for a total estimated cost of $3.2 million. Hawaii has an estimated 3,604 homeless students.

Other general recommendations from the committee include asking the board to consider establishing a “threshold enrollment level” for small schools to ensure their viability and reviewing the DOE’s geographic exemption policy, an often used program that allows students from one geographic area to attend a DOE school in a different region.

The 16 members on this year’s committee included the superintendent, seven principals, two teachers, a school administrative services assistant, a complex area business manager, a registrar, one complex area superintendent and community members from the various islands.

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