Abercrombie Unwilling to Make Tough Decisions on Education Reform, Aiona Says

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HONOLULU – Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan today called into question Neil Abercrombie’s willingness to make the tough decisions that will be required of Hawai‘i’s next Governor to achieve the types of reforms necessary to significantly improve the state’s public education system.

Mr. Abercrombie continues to oppose a comprehensive, independent audit of the Department of Education (DOE). Mr. Abercrombie has said the “last thing we need is an audit of the educational system,” even after he was one of 19 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to co-sponsor a bill introduced last year in favor of an independent audit of the Federal Reserve (HR 1207).


“Conducting an independent audit was good enough for my opponent at the federal level, but when it comes to Hawai‘i, he’s ok with not ensuring we’re getting the most out of every dollar we invest in our keiki’s education,” said Duke Aiona.

Duke and Lynn have consistently called for a comprehensive, independent audit of the DOE, which hasn’t been conducted since 1973, to show how our education dollars are spent and ensure that funding will go toward student achievement.

The Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA) leadership backing Mr. Abercrombie is opposed to a comprehensive, independent audit of the DOE.

“Our opponent is either inconsistent or dishonest when it comes to backing education reform,” said Lynn Finnegan. “He speaks of a new day, but he’s really trying to bring Washington-style politics to Hawai‘i. Our citizens want and deserve leaders who will stand up to special interests and bring accountability and transparency to our education system.”

While education spending has increased by more than 200 percent over 30 years, including inflation, Hawai‘i students continue to rank low in reading and math on national standards-based tests. The number of DOE employees who are not teachers has increased approximately 127 percent over that time period.

“Our local school officials need greater control over their budgets,” said Paul Vierling, who formally served on the Hawai‘i Board of Education. “A comprehensive, independent audit will allow us to know specifically where our education dollars are going and help increase student achievement. Research indicates that the closer we can apply funding to the actual classroom, the higher student achievement results will be. Local administrators need the flexibility to use their money at the local school and classroom level.”

On Oct. 27, a Maui News editorial stated in part, “Abercrombie’s rejection of an audit of the Department of Education ensures there will be no true educational reform in Hawai‘i under him – the majority of education dollars will remain inside DOE’s walls instead of in local schools. You can’t change priorities if you are afraid to investigate what the current priorities are.”

Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan have also consistently supported a constitutional amendment for an appointed school board as a step in the right direction for education reform. Mr. Abercrombie has flip-flopped twice on the issue and made inconsistent statements.

Early in the gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Abercrombie said he supported an appointed school board. Then during an Oct. 18 debate on PBS Hawai‘i’s Island Insights, Mr. Abercrombie came out against an appointed school board. The next day, he flip-flopped again and said he supported a school board.

To defer criticism, Mr. Abercrombie criticized Governor Linda Lingle for vetoing companion legislation that would have set up a process in which the State Legislature, not the Governor, would nominate school board members; however, it has been reported multiple times that he also opposed the companion legislation.

“The public education system, as it currently stands, lacks direct accountability,” said Duke Aiona. “When our opponent had an opportunity to support a measure that would establish a direct line of responsibility to the Governor, he wavered. When push comes to shove, it is obvious that our opponent will cave in to pressure from union leaders.”

When asked to name three positions where he differed from the HSTA during a live televised debate on Oct. 22. Mr. Abercrombie could not name one.

“We have reached a critical tipping point in education reform, and now, more than ever, our citizens – our families – want independent leaders who will not waffle when the temperature rises,” said Lynn Finnegan.

With the results of the public vote on an appointed school board, and a comprehensive, independent audit of the DOE, an Aiona-Finnegan Administration will have the information necessary to direct the most effective restructuring of Hawai‘i’s public education system in a generation.

“We can’t afford to squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity for education reform,” said Duke Aiona, referring to the high level of public involvement and engagement in improving Hawai‘i’s schools. “We’ve only got one shot at the future; let’s do it right.”

Submitted by Travis Taylor, Communications Director, Aiona-Finnegan Campaign