iLearn: Charter school inequity a disservice to kids

HOUR OF CODE: Students participate in the global Hour of Code, a self-guided computer coding and programming tutorial at the iLearn Academy Charter School on Dec. 13, 2017. iLearn is asking parents to contact island leaders and demand equitable treatment for all charter school students. Post file photo

iLearn Academy Charter School is asking parents to contact the governor, lieutenant governor and lawmakers about what it said is inequity in support among charter schools on island.

Helen Nishihira, the school's chief operations officer, said iLearn should have spoken up some time ago but kept silent because the school wanted to maintain a good working relationship with Guahan Academy Charter School and also wanted to see that school succeed.

iLearn also wanted to work out its concerns through the Guam Academy Charter Schools Council, Nishihira said.

GACS gets 3 free buildings, other schools get 0

GACS, unlike other charter schools, had been using two government-leased Tiyan buildings as school facilities without additional costs. Earlier this month, the governor granted her approval for a third facility, Building E.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said her decision was about the 740 students at GACS who depend on the success of the school.

But there are nearly as many students at iLearn, and Nishihira said it was time "to make a little noise" on behalf of other charter school students.

Rent-free buildings are an unfair advantage

"It seems staying silent has allowed our leaders to forget we have 620 students up here – 623, to be exact," Nishihira said. "This is why I sent out the letter – not to point fingers but to remind everyone we have this many public students here."

All charter schools are funded at an equal amount per pupil. Funding has been increasing over the years and is currently set at $6,150 per student. But the free facilities provided to GACS essentially grants the school another $1,300 per student, according to Nishihira.

Meanwhile, iLearn and the third charter school on Guam, Science is Fun and Awesome Learning Academy Charter School, have to use their per-pupil funding to pay for facilities, Nishihira stated in her letter to parents.

iLearn: Remind leaders of their commitment

The disparity was brought to the attention of the Office of the Governor and Guam Legislature prior to the passage of the fiscal 2020 budget bill, Nishihira said. 

"We were not given any commitment to closing this grievous gap between the charters. This difference in provisions to our student scholars is upsetting, and the only way our government leaders will listen is if we remind them of their commitment to our children for a free and equitable education," she added.

The issue is not about one school versus the other but about getting equal treatment, Nishihira told The Guam Daily Post.

Governor: iLearn might need senators’ help

iLearn is under a contract with Saint Paul Christian School, which is leasing iLearn's campus facility from Core Tech International. The Guam Daily Post is an affiliate of the owner of Core Tech.

iLearn is trying to obtain a permanent facility through the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Facility. 

Responding to concerns about the treatment of charter schools, Janela Carrera, the governor's spokeswoman, said Leon Guerrero's position is clear.

"She wants a safe, conducive learning environment for all children, which is why a $12 million loan guarantee for iLearn is actively being worked on with GHURA," Carrera said. "Depending on iLearn's financing plan, this may require an increase in per-pupil costs under the law, but that will require legislative action. As always, the administration will work with all stakeholders in the best interest of our students."

GACS: No preferential treatment here

Judith Won Pat, the chief academic officer at GACS, said the school is not receiving preferential treatment with its use of Building E.

The facility was being used by the Guam Department of Education to house special education services, and facilities and maintenance administrative functions. It was believed earlier in the year that GDOE and GACS would share the facility, before the governor issued her decision. 

Last week, GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez informed Leon Guerrero that GDOE would be moving its special education offices out of the building by the end of the school year.

He also said he will be informing Hope Cristobal, chairwoman of the Kumision i Fino CHamoru, that she should work directly with GACS to identify space for the Language Revitalization Center. The center is supposed to be in Building E.

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