NONCONTIGUOUS CHARTER SCHOOL DISTRICT
- There is nothing in the federal definition of local educational agency (LEA) (typically a school district) to prohibit the establishment of a geographically noncontiguous LEA, whether for charter schools or otherwise. Other states have authorized the creation of charter school districts.
- A decision would need to be made about whether membership in a separate charter school LEA is mandatory or voluntary. It cannot be assumed that all charter schools will want to participate in a separate LEA.
- Even with the creation of a charter school LEA, the DOE will retain its role as the state educational agency (SEA) and bear the ultimate responsibility for important educational objectives, such as ensuring the provision of a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities.
- Creation of a charter school LEA would not, in and of itself, resolve any of the current questions and debates concerning financial allocations to charter schools. Creation of a charter school LEA only implies changes to the Hawaii charter school law that are needed to authorize this new structure.
- Charter schools currently have the option of receiving a wide variety of services from the DOE, from food services to special education services. Creation of a new charter school LEA would not necessarily imply the cessation of such services.
- Designation of the charter schools as their own LEA means that they will assume entirely new duties and responsibilities under federal formula grants such as NCLB and IDEA. For instance, under IDEA, Part B, the charter school LEA would be responsible for providing all assistance and services dictated by the IEPs of children with disabilities (although DOE could be contracted to provide the services). In the event of expensive services that were unanticipated and not budgeted for, such as residential placement, the charter LEA could be forced to cut back on other cost items to find the money.
- A charter school or host culture charter school LEA will likely withstand constitutional equal protection scrutiny as long as the admissions policy does not facially discriminate based upon a protected class (such as race or religion) or further discriminatory motives.
- A charter school LEA would achieve more autonomy, particularly in establishing eligibility for and administering federal education grants and sub-grants, but could still remain tied to the DOE (with the concurrence of both the LEA and the SEA) for the provision of selected services.
- A charter school LEA will not necessarily mean that additional federal funds are made available to the schools unless an effective development program is put in place.
- Creation of a charter school LEA is not a panacea for the charter schools, but is a potentially meaningful educational reform strategy that should not be dismissed. Yet, there are too many issues that need to be resolved to confidently recommend the creation of a charter school district or LEA at this time.
- If the Legislature seeks to create a charter school LEA, a definitive legal opinion should be obtained from the Attorney General as to whether the creation of the new LEA would violate the requirement of Article X of the State Constitution for "a statewide system of public schools."
- Separate from the establishment of a charter school LEA, the Legislature can assist the charter schools efforts to seek outside funding by providing funds for the Charter School Administrative Office to hire a development officer to identify and pursue federal and private funding opportunities for the charter schools.