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Baker advises Hawaii board of education

Bruce Baker

As the seven-year school-funding lawsuit was coming to a close in Kansas, one KU professor was advising school officials on funding half a continent away.

Bruce Baker, associate professor of teaching and leadership and with the Institute for Policy and Social Research, recently reported his findings on Hawaii's school funding to the state's board of education.

Baker worked with colleague Scott Thomas of the University of Georgia on the report, which found problems with the way the state has proposed to allocate funds to schools with large numbers of students from disadvantaged families and with limited English proficiency.

The problem lies in the fact that the state wants to spend more on the schools with the most need but not at the expense of others.

"The issue there is (Hawaii) is a one-school-district state," Baker said. "To give more money to the neediest schools, you've got to either add new money or suck that money from somewhere else."

As a one-district state, Hawaii's legislature provides the state board of education with a budget and charges it with distributing the funds fairly. Baker's report praised the state for wanting to spend more on the schools with the most need, but cautioned it not to let politics play too heavily on who needs more and who needs less.

Instead, he urged the state to base decisions on empirical research, showing where the most dollars should go. The case in Kansas is a perfect example of how politics should not be allowed to factor into the equation, Baker said. The state's weighting system is problematic, in that it allows more money to go to districts that do not need it as much as others, the basis for the funding lawsuit.

"It's because things like that happen that it should be based on empirical research," Baker said.

The evaluation comes about as Hawaii is moving toward decentralizing its one-district system, giving more control to local administrators. Baker's report suggests that the effects of such decentralization on student outcomes are unclear.

While the two states' school funding situations are fundamentally different, Baker said both states could learn from the other. Hawaii could learn the importance of ensuring politics do not factor into the decision of how much to allocate to each district. In turn, Kansas could learn from Hawaii that is important – just as the courts pressured the legislature to add more money to public schools – that legislators make sure local administrators are held accountable for making sure money is used correctly once it is allocated.

Baker, who presented the findings of his study and recommendation to the Hawaii State Board of Education Aug. 15, has studied similar school funding issues in Texas and Washington.

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