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What is a public charter school?

A public charter school is a state-funded school that is distinct from other public (DOE) schools in that charter schools are afforded more autonomy, flexibility, and responsibility at the school level to serve specific needs and communities. The purpose of charter schools includes: 1) providing families, students, and teachers with expanded choices in the educational program, opportunities, and learning environment for their child. Charter schools often target 

under-served populations and specific communities. Another intent of charter schools is to serve as a research venue for the development, implementation, and dissemination of alternative and innovative approaches to education including governance, financing, administration, curricula, technology, and teaching strategies. 


The charter school system in Hawaiʻi is unique. The majority of charter schools in Hawaiʻi originated from within the communities that the schools now serve (as opposed to corporate or other external interest, which is common in many other states). Another unique quality is that Hawaiʻi Charter Schools are state agencies, and as such, are subject to appropriate state laws and regulations. Additionally, Hawaiʻi is the only state to operate a unified system with DOE serving as both State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agency (LEA). 


Hawaiʻiʻs first public charter school law was passed in 1994 and the first charter school, Waialae Elementary, opened in 1995. The volunteer Charter School Review Panel and paid Charter School Administrative Office staff primarily for support and advocacy.  In 2011, a Task Force was formed to investigate the policies and practices of the Panel and the CSAO. In 2012, ACT 130 was the legislative response to the Task Force report, and Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes 302D is the law that now governs charter schools in Hawaiʻi. 


In Hawaiʻi, the charter school system is made up of the Hawaiʻi Board of Education as the primary authority over all schools in the state, the Public Charter School Commission, which serves as the state and currently only authorizer, the Hawaiʻi Public Charter School Network provides advocacy support services, the Department of Education serves as State Education Agency for oversight and monitoring of federal and DOE-administered funds, and individual charter schools with their own visions, missions, and approaches to meeting the various needs and desires of Hawaii’s communities. 

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