BY EDDIE KIM – Former Governor Linda Lingle delivered a keynote address on Friday and strongly emphasized the need for greater school choice in Hawaii, while criticizing the Hawaii State Teachers Association and legislators of “maintaining the status quo”.

Lingle was the guest speaker at a luncheon sponsored by the Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation and the Grassroot Institution of Hawaii in celebration of influential economist Milton Friedman.This is the 6th year that the Hawaii groups joined other groups across the nation in holdng a Friedman birthday celebration posthumously to acknowledge his championing of school choice through open enrollment and school vouchers.

Friedman believed that greater competition between public and private schools would help make schools more effective and efficient and bring about positive change in the public school system, including socioeconomic segregation in inner-city schools.

Lingle addressed these ideas and said there already is choice in the university system here in Hawaii, and that “school choice is important in giving each student the best education and the best future.”

“The most glaring example of how school choice works is how we choose universities,” she said.  “If you live by Kapiolani Community College, you don’t have to go there.  And you can live in Manoa without going to University of Hawaii.  You go where it is best for you.  And free choice has developed our university system into the best in the world.”

Lingle also blasted the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the union that represents all public school teachers. The union is battling with this current administration over contract negotiations and has opposed more choice in education. “We all know about the HSTA and how their biggest priority is maintaining the status quo – they don’t support school vouchers, for instance,” Lingle said.  “But this isn’t true of the teachers.

“If the [HSTA] didn’t have all the money to influence legislators, we would see more change and better improvements.  They take money and use if for contributions to legislators who will keep the system and the spending the same.”

Lingle pointed out that public school student enrollment in Hawaii has remained essentially stable in 40 years, but government spending on schools has more than doubled. “Is the education system twice as good now?  No,” she said.

Along with this, Lingle noted that Hawaii needs to “take a look at mandatory teacher union membership” and said that teachers “should be able to choose themselves.”

While Lingle was critical of various facets of national and state education, she also stressed that the answers could only be found through political bipartisanship and mutual understanding. She also poked fun at her Republican background.

“You might be surprised to know that President Obama and I share many of the same ideas,” she said, eliciting laughs from the audience.

“When there are good ideas, though, politicians have to step up and support them even if it’s ideologically opposed to the [party’s] position,” Lingle said.  She used the current debt-crisis deadlock in the nation’s capitol as an example of how things “shouldn’t happen”.

At the end of her keynote appearance, Lingle addressed rumors of a run for a U.S. Senate seat and told the audience that she was “very seriously considering running”, citing the currrent “lack of common sense” in U.S. Senate dealings as a key motivation for her.

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