Congresswoman Hirono Votes to Improve Hawaii Charter Schools

Washington, Jun 22, 2011

Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) today voted to reauthorize the federal Charter School Program in the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, HR 2218, H.R. 2218 would strengthen quality and accountability in the nation’s charter schools, and passed the committee by a bipartisan vote of 34-5.

There are 31 charter schools in Hawaii. Twenty-four of those schools are located in Congresswoman Hirono’s district, which includes the Neighbor Islands and rural Oahu.

“I have personally visited or met with representatives from over a dozen of Hawaii’s charter schools. Many charter schools provide innovative approaches to learning, including the 17 Native Hawaiian-focused charter schools that use the Hawaiian language and incorporate traditional cultural knowledge as part of the curriculum,” said Congresswoman Hirono.

A 2004 study by Kamehameha Schools found that Native Hawaiian students at these charter schools have lower absenteeism and higher grade 10 reading and SAT scores than Native Hawaiians in other public schools in Hawaii.

“Last summer I visited Ka ‘Umeke Kā‘eo Hawaiian Immersion Charter School on Hawaii Island.  The proud 4th and 5th grade students showed me the school garden, which is integrated into class lessons.  Most memorable was watching the worm composting process, which was a favorite with the students.  We know that creative, engaging, hands-on experiences foster student learning.”

One of the original purposes of the Charter School Program was to promote collaboration between charter schools and traditional public schools by fostering an exchange of ideas. This bill refocuses on that original purpose.  In addition, safeguards are put in place to ensure charter schools are equipped to adequately serve disadvantaged students, including those with disabilities and English language learners.  The bill is supported by the National Disability Rights Network, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, and the Council for Exceptional Children.

Hawaii charter schools serve close to 9,000 students, statewide, or about 5% of Hawaii’s student population.  That represents a close to 50% increase over the last 3 years.

Congresswoman Hirono has been a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee since first being sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007.