Hawaii State Legislature Gets ‘F’ in Education Reform

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    “Laura Brown Image”

    The 2003 legislative session began with high hopes and promises for meaningful education reform, including initiatives for local school boards, a tax credit for K-12 scholarships, amending the flawed charter school law, principals out of the union, funding appropriated to individual schools based on student needs, and increased school choice. Democrat Senators then not only killed these bills, they reaffirmed public employees’ right to blow smoke in students faces, slammed a $20 per student textbook fee on the hardworking families of this state, and approved a bill that would allow Department of Education district administrators each an estimated $40,000 raise over and above their $80,000 per year salaries.


    ”Bills Benefit Powerful Unions and Hurt Parents and Students”

    HB 1175 provides for 15 “complex-area” superintendents instead of 7 district superintendents with salaries at 80 percent of the state superintendent’s $150,000 per year salary or $120,000 per year. The salary portion of the bill was amended in conference committee. The bill originally capped assistant and deputy superintendent pay at approximately $65,000 – $75,000 per year.

    Then, as a double-whammy, HB 289 “codified” these 15 “complex-areas” into law. Senate Education Chair Norman Sakamoto assured his colleagues on the Senate floor that this bill was necessary to “create a complex management structure that would align curricula with statewide performance standards.” However, HB 289 oversteps the Board of Education’s constitutional authority to set education policy and, at the same time, solidifies approximately 3,000 DOE middle management positions into an inflexible structure that will be unnecessary and hard to remove under a local school board structure.

    Sadistically, the Senate Democrats then moved to impose a $20 textbook fee on all students. Sen. Sakamoto admitted that most of the $134,000 in textbook losses was just due to textbooks getting “old” and needing to be replaced, not due to abuse by students.

    A previous statewide audit of textbook purchases revealed a severe problem with miscoding of textbook purchases into the DOE Financial Management System, with legal fees and other costs entered as textbooks. In other words, “missing” textbooks may have never existed at all.

    ”Smoking in the Boy’s Room Okay with Legislators and UPW”

    HB 248 to ban smoking at schools by public employees was addressed in conference committee on April 24th. Although there was enormous support among most education committee members for passing HB 248, Sen. Kanno succumbed to pressure from the United Public Workers Union and said the DOE should be given more time to settle the issue through an agreement rather than legislation.

    UPW leader Peter Trask reportedly testified before the Senate Education Committee that he would have an agreement completed in 90 days. The DOE currently has an administrative rule prohibiting smoking on school campuses; however, legislators ultimately allowed union rights to take precedence over the health and safety of children.

    ”New Bureaucracy Created for Charter Schools”

    In spite of extensive meetings between U.S. DOE Undersecretary Dean Kern, charter school representatives and legislators, progress on amending Hawaii’s charter school law was halted during conference committee. SB 1700 SD1 HD2 CD1 replaces the authority of the superintendent with an executive director of a charter school agency that duplicates the function of the DOE. This agency will skim off 2 percent of all funds earmarked for charter schools to pay for its operating costs and will distribute all funding to charter schools over three pay periods per school year. The bill does not provide any means of holding this agency and charter schools accountable for funding and performance.

    Kern’s recommendations to remove caps on number of charter schools, remove collective bargaining, create multiple authorizers, give authority to the Superintendent, develop measurable goals, allow for public review, remove Board of Education members from the New Century Charter Review Panel and allow each charter school to become a Local Education Agency went unheeded.

    SB 1700 did increase per pupil funding by approximately $2,000 per student. However, language regarding placement of special education students by the Department of Education runs contrary to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Failure to provide funding based on student needs, allowing only for a standard staffing formula instead, will prevent charter schools from developing programs that serve children with special needs.

    ”Local School Board Initiative Stillborn”

    SB 1336, introduced as part of the governor’s package to replace Hawaii’s statewide school system with locally elected school boards never even got a hearing. Even though the governor’s bill was proclaimed by the Senate Education Chair’s Education Specialist as an “excellent bill,” it was bypassed for Sen. Sakamoto’s “kitchen sink” bills that threw in so many unrelated issues and ideas that he was forced to draw elaborate multi-colored flow charts to try to explain to his committee members just what he was trying to do. His own committee members tactfully suggested they deal with per pupil funding first and then work on governance structures.

    HB 714 was supposed to allow for the ballot question asking the public if they were in favor of creating local school boards. At the end of the legislative process, the Democrat Education Chairs mutilated the ballot question to ask the public if they would like for the legislature to decide on local school boards, thus defeating the whole purpose of the initiative.

    ”Never Fear, There’s Always Next Year”

    During the third and final reading of bills, Sen. Sakamoto assured his Senate colleagues that “there is always next year” for education reform. This is exactly what was said last year when he killed the initiative for local school boards that had unanimous support in both House and Senate.

    There may always be a next year for politicians who assume that they are immune from being held accountable for their negligence to act in the best interests of children. Meanwhile, according to a newly released report by the Department of Education, only a little more than half of Hawaii’s high school students are graduating, while the remaining 60 percent to 80 percent are not proficient in reading and mathematics.

    Politicians have all the time in the world to make decisions that will improve Hawaii’s dismal public school record, but each year without reform means lost educational opportunities for tens of thousands of children.

    Not until the public gets angry with those in office who are hurting their children will there be any chance of education reform in Hawaii.

    ”’Laura Brown is the education reporter for HawaiiReporter.com and can be reached via email at”’ mailto:LauraBrown@hawaii.rr.com