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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hawaii hopes improvements at schools will lure $75M in grants


By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawai'i education officials believe the recent elimination of public school furloughs, revisions to the state's charter school laws and the state's participation in national common education standards have bolstered the state's chances to garner some $75 million in federal grant money.

Only two states Delaware and Tennessee emerged as winners in the first round of the federal Race to the Top competition in March. But Hawai'i officials say the state's improved application and mathematical odds are in the state's favor as round two of the application begins.

Hawai'i was among 35 states that submitted applications to the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday for some $3.4 billion in federal education grant money. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced this week that 10 to 15 states should expect to be selected as winners based on their state's plans for education reform.

The U.S. DOE is expected to review applications over the summer and will announce winners by the end of September.

"This time, I think we've made a lot of progress in terms of solidifying our plans. We were able to address all of the questions that were raised by the evaluators in the first round," said Kathy Mata- yoshi, Hawai'i's interim superintendent of schools. "The quality and depth of our plan is much higher."

Federal reviewers made no mention of the Hawai'i public school system's recent teacher furlough and budget woes in the state's first application for Race to the Top. Still, most state and education officials believe those issues had lowered the state's chances for garnering federal grant money.

Matayoshi said the teacher furlough blemish is removed from the state's new application just as many states have begun to consider or even implement teacher layoffs or deeper education cuts.

"Because of the timing, we were able to include the fact that furlough Fridays are over for the coming school year. A lot of other states and cities are now starting to furlough their teachers," she said.

On its initial application, the state lost a significant number of points in the area of charter schools, especially in the area of oversight and the state's cap on the number of schools that can be chartered in the state.

New charter school legislation passed by lawmakers in the session that ended in April and signed into law last week by Gov. Linda Lingle should improve the state's application in this area, Matayoshi said.

CHARTER SCHO0LS

Under the new law, the Charter School Review Panel may authorize up to three new startup charters the previous law had said only one for each existing charter that has received a three-year or longer accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or a comparable accreditation authority. Charter school officials had lobbied legislators to eliminate the state's cap on charter schools entirely.

Federal reviewers of the state's Race to the Top application had said that the state's oversight of charter schools appeared weak. According to one federal reviewer, the state neglects to hold charter schools responsible for student achievement, particularly when determining whether a charter school should be renewed.

The new law changes that by requiring that charters be reauthorized by the review panel no later than four years after the initial issue of a charter and every six years after that.

Hawai'i may still face a challenge in proving that charter schools and regular schools are equally funded, also a requirement under Race to the Top. For years charter school officials have argued that charters are underfunded by the state, especially in the area of facilities.

This year, charters received $6,258 per student, while the per-pupil dollar amount for regular DOE schools is estimated at $6,984, if only state general fund allocations are considered.

Other factors make comparisons difficult, though.

For example, the dollar amount for regular DOE schools includes special education services provided to charter schools by the state. If federal funds and hurricane relief fund money are added in, the per-pupil allocation is about $9,522 for regular DOE schools.

Matayoshi said the state's participation in the national Common Core Standards movement will garner the state significant points. While 48 states have committed to implementing the common standards in English and math, so far only Hawai'i and Maryland have officially adopted the standards.

TEACHING STANDARDS

Matayoshi said that the state's current standards in core subject areas mirror the new rigorous national standards that are meant to be internationally competitive.

Common Core Standards will take effect in the 2012 school year and will mean that the majority of school districts in the country will, for the first time, be teaching based on the same expectations.

Hawai'i also was among five states to receive an "A" rating in a recent Harvard study on state education standards and their alignment to national expectations and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the only standardized test that is currently comparable across state lines.

Most states received "C" ratings on their proficiency standards and one state Tennessee, chosen as a recent winner in the first round of Race to the Top received an "F" for its content standards' alignment to national benchmarks.

"We really are not looking at a major change in our standards themselves. We already had high standards and this validates that," Matayoshi said.