Dear Governor Lingle: I know you are an advocate of the public charter school system, and I hope my fellow charter school parents and I can count on you to make sure it gets the support it needs this Legislative session.
There’s theory, and there’s practice. As you know, Hawaii has heard a lot of talk from its government leaders about how much they believe education to be a top priority. We’ve seen a lot of debate – from articulate arguments to petty squabbles – over how to fix a broken system. But while all this energy is expended over deciding how to restructure the existing system (and how many heads it should have), public charter schools are on the front lines, down on the ground, doing instead of talking.
Charter schools might not be the best and only way to give our keiki the education they need and deserve. But they represent a new, different and innovative approach. At a minimum, that is what we need most of all in Hawaii. And as a parent of a first-year charter school student, the charter schools are an approach that I believe works.
Today I am joining a chorus of voices asking you to urge the Legislature to give the public charter schools what they need to do exactly what you say you want them to do. Especially since they are doing a lot of what you wish all schools were doing: Succeeding.
My daughter started kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary in Papakolea last year. As a product of our public school system myself, I had high hopes. But immediately she seemed to disengage, her mind seemed to wither. All she saw were boundaries, well-worn paths. Reading at a second-grade level, it was disheartening to spend a day on the letter “C.” My wife and I were in a panic. We called out for help on the Internet. It was only by chance a parent of a charter school child heard us, and suggested we check them out.
My daughter now goes to Voyager Charter School in Kakaako. For all the challenges the school faces, they have made me a believer in the only six months my daughter has been a Voyager student. I have seen a spectacular change in the way she approaches learning, and love how she is thriving in an environment where kids are encouraged to explore, rather than simply obey. The school is independently run, the teachers are passionately involved… we’ve created the proverbial village needed to raise a child.
My wife and I, and our fellow charter school parents, have done all we can to do right by our kids. If you and members of the Legislature say the same thing in speeches and press releases, Gov. Lingle, I want everyone in the State Capitol to prove it.
Specifically, I’m asking you to push our senators and representatives to give charter schools what the Board of Education has already allocated for them: $5,736 per pupil, up from $5,355, and a figure that is based on the existing legal formula. The current budget proposal, however, offers only $5,235.85 per pupil. This not only ignores the law, but creates a $20,000 shortfall that must be made up with fundraising.
I believe in public charter schools, as do many of my fellow parents. We are serious about education, and committed to making things work. But I am not rich. We are local, working, often struggling families. We give what we can to the school – we donate money, we sell chili tickets, we contribute time and supplies. Many parents give far and above what most parents would be willing to give to keep their school running. But we cannot make up for the shortfall this proposed budget would create. We can barely sustain our school today.
Gov. Lingle, today I’ve told you about one small mind that has grown by leaps and bounds because of the charter school approach, and that alone would make your investment worthwhile. Yet there are thousands of kids, just like my daughter, who just might represent the bright future we all envision for Hawaii. Please give public charter schools a fighting chance. Please push approval of the funding the law and the Board of Education call for.