Education budget short $124M | Guam News

Vice Speaker Telena Nelson is analyzing the budgets of the island’s colleges and public school system, which includes the island’s three charter schools.

The Office of the Governor submitted its budget proposal for fiscal year 2020. The budget for all is pegged at $287.28 million, to be shared by the Guam Department of Education, University of Guam, Guam Community College and the three charter schools.

The combined budget request for these education institutions is $411.97 million.

The shortfall, based on the budget the Leon Guerrero administration submitted versus what the schools requested, is $124 million.

Agency leaders said that at the ground level, perennial shortages in appropriations by lawmakers have meant delays or cancellations on projects that aim to improve services or facilities.

Nelson acknowledged this in a budget hearing held about a month ago. With the government’s budget proposal out, she wants to evaluate the administration’s proposal against the schools’ requests.

“Each entity requested different budgets that the governor has grouped together in her budget proposal,” said the vice speaker, who also is the chairwoman of the legislative committee on education.

“I’m concerned that each school system might not receive their requested budget, but it’s too early to tell how that might affect individual schools. I’m diligently weighing the needs of each entity and my office continues to research where the money is most needed. In the end, every student should expect to receive an adequate education.”

An oversight hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to discuss Guahan Academy Charter School’s renewal of certification and the status of its accreditation efforts.

Earlier this year, Judith Won Pat, chief academic officer of Guahan Academy, said the academy had lost accreditation candidacy for its secondary program, which includes its middle and high school curriculum.

Nelson said she wasn’t informed of the accreditation issue until Guahan Academy “made it publicly known.”

“My biggest concern is the quality of education the students are receiving,” Nelson has said. “Without accreditation, we can’t be sure the students are receiving a quality education that meets institutional standards. Additionally, their high school students will have challenges with enrollment into institutions of higher education. While I realize school officials are doing all they can to rectify the issue, the quality of education their students are receiving remains questionable. Nevertheless, my office remains committed to monitoring their ongoing accreditation challenges.”

Won Pat has said the school is intent on gaining accreditation for its secondary program.

Many colleges require student applicants to provide a high school diploma from an accredited high school. 

Separating budgets

The Guam Department of Education and the island’s three charter schools have not publicly commented on the administration’s proposed budget, which lumps their appropriation as one. They all have asked that senators set aside a separate budget for the charter schools instead of paying charter schools out of GDOE’s budget.

“Separating the GDOE and charter school budgets would require amending current public law through legislation,” Nelson said. “This is an option that was brought to the table that we will be considering after (this) week’s oversight hearing.”

Budget differences

The Legislature started budget hearings in March for education agencies.

And while school leaders understand that they are part of a government that provides a variety of services, their budgets are tied to their mission and the mandates that the Legislature has assigned to them.

Here’s a breakdown of the requests and versus the administration’s proposal, which is a combination of local and federal funds:

• UOG request: $38.57 million

• Adelup’s proposal: $31.01 million  

UOG asked for $38.57 million for fiscal 2020, saying it’s needed for operations and maintenance – portions of the latter have been deferred over the years.

UOG officials said they’ve managed to stave off tuition increases in the last few years in their effort to maintain affordability. However, they may be forced to adjust tuition this year if the budget and appropriated allotments fall short of its need.

• GCC request: $19.28 million

• Adelup’s proposal: $16.91 million

GCC told senators during the budget hearing that it wants to lead initiatives to support workforce development and transformational change in the government of Guam. But the college needs financial support to do that. The college submitted a $19.28 million budget request for fiscal 2020.

Officials said the college has accomplished a lot in the past fiscal year. However, officials said efforts have been slowed by the underfunding of programs and delays in the release of its budget allocation through the fiscal year. Among the initiatives it would like to tackle is to help equip more Guamanians with the skill sets needed to participate in the construction industry, which is struggling to fill jobs.

• GDOE: $343 million

• Adelup’s proposal: $228.93 million (GDOE would share with charter schools)

GDOE, which has asked the Legislature to separate its budget from charter schools’ budgets, is requesting $343 million for the upcoming fiscal year for its approximately 29,700 students. 

Historically, GDOE hasn’t received its budget request, which is based on various mandates both local and federal – most commonly noted during the budget period is the Every Child is Entitled to an Adequate Education Act. The law defines the responsibilities of government leaders to educate children per the island’s Organic Act into 14 points. Those points include, among other things that classrooms be comfortably cool, that all students have textbooks, and that teachers are certified.

GDOE’s fiscal 2019 budget request was $324 million, but senators approved only $220 million for the fiscal year.

• Charter schools: $11.12 million

• Adelup’s proposal: (Shared with GDOE)

Each of Guam’s charter schools is asking for $6,500 per student as part of its fiscal year 2020 budget, which is a slight increase from the current $6,088 per student for the current fiscal year.

For the current budget year, the charter schools have to share GDOE’s budget. And while GDOE and all three charter schools requested separate budgets for fiscal 2020, the governor’s budget proposal keeps them lumped together.

At least one charter school representative has asked why GDOE gets more money per student than do the charter schools. GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez has said charter schools should be able to make a request for more than the $6,500-per-student standard that has been set in previous budget laws.

The charter schools are funded according to student numbers, which have caps. They’ve all requested a budget of $6,500 per student. At that rate, they could receive up to:

• iLearn Academy Charter School, 620 students: $4.03 million

• Science is Fun and Awesome Learning Academy, 350: $2.28 million

• Guahan Academy Charter School, 740: $4.81M

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