HAWAII: Lack of oversight failing Hawaii’s charter school students
Posted on 19 December, 2011
HONOLULU—A recent report by the State Office of the Auditor found Hawaii’s public charter school system riddled with poor performance, a lack of accountability, and unethical and illegal spending and employment practices. The State Auditor will be providing an overview and analysis on its recently released report, “Performance Audit of the Hawaii’s Public Charter School System” to the Senate and House Committees on Education. The briefing will be held on Monday, December 19 at 2:00 p.m. at the State Capitol, room 309. The Charter School Review Panel and Charter School Administrative Office have been invited to participate in the briefing and respond to the findings and recommendations. No public testimony will be accepted. To read the entire State Auditor report, click here In its report, the State Auditor found a lack of oversight and accountability in governing Hawaii’s charter schools. The report also describes how the Charter School Review panel has failed to establish sound models to measure and evaluate students’ academic growth and performance as well as a school’s operational effectiveness. “In our audit of the Hawaii public charter school system,” the State Auditor said in its report, “we found that the Charter School Review Panel, which authorizes and should hold charter schools accountable for their performance, has misinterpreted State law and minimized its role in the system’s accountability structure.” The State Auditor attributed the problem to the Charter School Review Panel instead giving responsibilities to the local school boards, thus removing itself—and outside oversight—from the charter school system. The Charter School Review Panel, it was found, does not verify and analyze the data it receives from the schools for accuracy and completeness, nor does it collect its own data to measure student performance. The State Auditor said its own analysis of student performance reports from 10 public charter schools found several instances in which critical data, such as the Hawaii State Assessment scores for reading, mathematics, and science, were omitted or presented in misleading ways. “When we collected and analyzed that data, we found that ﬁve schools failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind testing standards,” the State Auditor’s report said. “Test scores from several of those schools were substantially lower than other public schools in their districts. Moreover, four schools misreported enrollment numbers. For one school’s enrollment count, we could not verify 28 students. With funding based on [the 2009 to 2010 school year] per-pupil allocation of $5,753, that amounts to more than $160,000.” In the 2009 to 2010 school year, nearly 8,000 students attended 31 charter schools throughout the islands. That year, the charter school system had a general fund budget of $49.7 million. The State Auditor attributed rampant unethical and illegal spending practices to the lack of oversight by the review panel, the Charter School Administrative Office, which is responsible for management of the charter school system, and the local school boards. Incidents range from the seemingly frivolous (excursions to a water park and ice skating rink and a school-financed prom) to the possibly fraudulent (administrators doubling and tripling each others’ salaries). The report describes how Hawaii Technology Academy’s (HTA) head of school, a private sector employee, was not held accountable for the spending of over $3.04 million in State funds. At the Myron B. Thompson Academy, the State Auditor found $133,000 in overpayments to staff. For example, the school’s part-time registrar received an “administrative differential” that boosted his annual pay to $55,200, a 212 percent increase. At other charter schools, the State Auditor found instances of unrestrained spending—Kamaile Academy spent nearly $18,000 in public money on school excursions to Wet ‘N Wild Water Amusement Park , Ice Palace, and Chuck E. Cheese. Ultimately, the State Auditor concluded in its report: “Because [the Charter School Review Panel] does not exercise effective oversight, the panel is unaware if charter schools improve learning over time, nor can it hold the charter schools accountable for meeting or exceeding performance standards established by the State. Moreover, the panel and the local school boards cannot ensure public funds are spent wisely, consistent with the goals of public accountability and ethical principles. To establish outside oversight and real accountability in Hawaii’s charter school system, the panel and the Charter School Administrative Office need to take a central and active role in a robust monitoring and reporting system.” State officials said they will discuss proposed changes to Hawaii’s public charter school system at today’s meeting. “While the Task Force did not focus on specific schools, the recommended changes we’ve put forward to create clear lines of authority and establish a strong governance structure will address many of the concerns raised by the Auditor,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Education. “Working with our local charter school community and national experts on charter schools, we will be putting forth substantive reforms that maintain autonomy while ensuring accountability.” The primary mission of the State Auditor is to conduct post audits of the transactions, accounts, programs, and performance of public agencies. The performance audit is the first of the Hawaii public charter school system since the schools were statutorily approved in 1999. The charter school system is made up of the Board of Education, the Charter School Review Panel, the Charter School Administrative Ofﬁce, and the charter schools and their governing boards known as the local school boards. Hawaii’s charter schools are publicly funded and receive a majority of their funding through the State’s general fund appropriations based on a per pupil allotment. The State funding is intended for instructional and operational purposes. Federal funds, primarily No Child Left Behind Act funds, supplement the charter schools’ general funds. Other moneys come from donated, special, trust, and revolving funds.