Hawaii Charter School System Slammed in Audit

Hawaii's Charter School Review Panel has "misinterpreted state law and minimized its role in the system's accountability structure", says an audit of the state's charter school system, writes Katherine Poythress at Honolulu Civil Beat.

The main points highlighted in the damning audit are that Hawaii's Charter School Review Panel fails to hold charter schools accountable for student performance while allowing the schools to avoid complying with state law and principles of public accountability.

In general, the panel has delegated too much of the monitoring and accountability to the boards of individual schools, the audit says.

This report affirmed what many already felt. Officials have already been hard at work to address the issues that the audit highlighted. Earlier this month, a legislative task force recommended a complete overhaul of the system.

"We saw a lot of these problems, which is why all the things going on have been going on," said Roger McKeague, executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office.

"That's why we had the task force. It was all in recognition of the fact that there was issues, and that things needed to be tightened up to make it work better."

McKeague hopes that the overhaul will clear all problems found during the audit, solving the fact that some charter schools have been omitting or misrepresenting critical data, overpaying staff and not abiding by state ethics law.

"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 has resulted in school spending and employment practices that are unethical and illegal," the report states.

While officials have been willing to accept many of the findings and agree that many things need addressing, there are some that take umbrage with a couple of contentious points.

For one, the audit claims that schools misrepresented enrollment numbers, and are therefore possibly defrauding the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars. McKeague refutes this, saying that the administrative office never based school funding distributions on those misreported numbers, but an official enrollment count.

The panel also disputes the claim that it has neglected its responsibility to hold schools accountable, saying it has provided oversight of charter schools "to the extent allowable by law."

McKeague concludes that while there are some contentious issues, overall the audit highlights the need for clearer laws and lines of authority.

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