Education costs $4,288 per year per student

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on the state Department of Education’s new weighted-student formula for funding public-school operations.

LIHU’E — For the first time, a weighted-student formula (WSF) has been used to determine funding for individual public schools statewide and on Kaua’i.

Through a complex equation, it was determined that the cost of educating one public-school student for one school year is $4,288, state Department of Education officials said.

Based on student enrollment, that means leaders of some schools, including Waimea Canyon on Kaua’i, will receive less state funds for operations in the upcoming school year than they do now.

Each Kaua’i public school’s financial plan for the 2006-07 school year, developed by school principals and others and based on WSF funding guidelines, has been approved by state Department of Education Complex Area Superintendent (CAS) Daniel Hamada, he said.

For Glenda Miyazaki, principal at Waimea Canyon School, the WSF meant planning for a reduction of $79,000 from the current year’s budget.

“For a school that operates from K through 8, that’s a lot of money,” Miyazaki said. That amount represents the largest budget reduction among Kaua’i schools, Hamada said.

Members of the state Legislature, in their Reinventing Education Act of 2004 (Act 51), mandated that state Department of Education leaders allocate resources to schools using a weighted-student formula.

The DOE Web site dedicated to the Reinventing Education Act for the Children of Hawaii (REACH) describes WSF as an “innovative process” that is a “fair and equitable way to distribute funds for school budgets. Money is given to schools based on individual student needs” rather than by enrollment.

The process “provides school communities with flexibility in determining how to use those funds to meet student needs.”

“Because we’re a small school, even with children with needs, we lose money,” Miyazaki said.

Act 51 mandated that a “Committee on Weights, representing education professionals and community members, will annually recommend the formula for allocating money to public schools based on the educational needs of each student.”

Hamada was one of 42 members on the weights committee. Hamada said they had a number of tasks. Only a certain amount of state general-fund revenues would be included in the WSF, up to 70 percent of the total DOE operating budget. The first task was to determine which moneys.

Members of the weights committee talked to leaders of every single program in the state DOE.

Hamada said that, while it was easy to add programs already touching most students into WSF, like textbook money, but other areas were problematic and generated much debate, like athletics.

Members of the weights committee felt they lacked enough information on certain programs to decide if adding them to the WSF calculations would hurt schools.

Weights committee members excluded certain programs from the calculations, live vocational education, athletics, atrisk programs, Hawaiian-studies and Hawaiian-immersion programs, special education, diagnostic services, utilities (other than telephone), student transportation, food service, major repairs and maintenance, and the A+ after-school program, Hamada explained.

In total, 72 percent of the DOE operating budget went into WSF.

Because 50 percent of the members of the weights committee were non-DOE people, they had to learn about the funding system, which took time, Hamada continued. Hamada feels the time frame (five months) they were given was not long enough to develop such a complex system of school funding.

Determining student characteristics to be weighted, and the unit value, was another task. The COW selected the value of 1 as the basic allocation, They then decided students in grades kindergarten through two would get an added value of .15; economically disadvantaged, 0.1; those learning English as a second language, .189; transient students, 0.025; geographic isolation, 0.005; multi-track, 0.005; elementary, 0.035; and middle, 0.035.

Members of the weights committee then calculated the basic allocation by taking the total funds put into the weight, subtracting the dollar amounts of all school adjustments and student weights, and dividing the difference by the total number of students in DOE schools (excluding six special or unusual schools).

The resulting value of 1, the basic allocation, equaled approximately $4,288, the cost of educating one student for one year.

  • Cynthia Matsuoka, a Lihu’e-based freelance writer, is the former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi, and writes periodically on education issues exclusively for The Garden Island. Messages for her may be left with
    Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, at 245-3681, ext. 224, or

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