While the rest of the country zooms forth into the 21st Century with momentous decisions on vouchers and school choice, the 50th state, Hawaii, lags over 100 years behind.
Gov. Linda Lingle, who is trying to change that through her initiatives to increase democracy and parent control of education resources through local school boards, is encountering great resistance from those staunch supporters of the status quo.
Despite that obstacle, Lingle will emphasize again today in her State of the State (10 a.m. Hawaii Time) address that education reform in the Hawaii public school system is her top priority.
The opposition to her plans continue to use the same arguments:
*School boards will drain money from schools and create more bureaucracy;
*Education and curriculum decisions for children should be left in the hands of “experts.”
Superintendent of Hawaii’s Public Schools Pat Hamamoto calculates that the governor’s proposed 7 local school boards will cost $6 million, taking that away from schools. She neglects to say that even if these projections are accurate, this translates into less than one-third of 1 percent of the Department of Education’s $1.9 billion dollar appropriations. However, a modified version of this proposal would eliminate $75 million to $150 million in current DOE expenditures for administrative support.
Additionally, if each community created a local school board and current expenditures for teachers and teacher support were divided equally, each community would receive $40 million to spend as best suited their needs.
Each local school board properly constituted in state law as a “local education agency” (LEA) would then be eligible to receive grants and other forms of aid directly, thereby multiplying school access to increased external funding.
The second argument admonishes anyone who considers parents as the true “experts” in charge of their children’s education over government bureaucrats. Honolulu Weekly writer Bob Rees asks whether “democratization — putting the education and curriculum of your child into the hands of your wacko and zealous neighbor instead of experts — is a good thing.”
While this question could equally be applied to the wisdom of voters who elected many of our current legislators as well as the statewide board of education, the alternative is to leave children’s fate in the hands of an arbitrary and capricious department of education.
Although the DOE’s vision of student support is illustrated in their logo as a bureaucracy that envelopes entire communities, the proper balance would be provided by elected school board members serving as a link between schools to the larger community.
Local school boards would facilitate communication, advocate on behalf of students and schools, set the vision for community education goals, assure systematic, external monitoring of budgets, while building support and understanding of public education in their communities.
Ultimately, school boards will only be an intermediary step towards accountability in the Department of Education. Real progress will be made when parents may choose any school and the money follows the child.
The governor remains optimistic she can get the proposal on the ballot to decentralize Hawaii’s public school system and let the people decide with their votes if they want that change or not. She asks perplexed, how can the Democrats refuse to let the people decide how their school system should be run?
However, not everyone is as optimistic as the governor, saying at the rate Hawaii is moving toward putting parents in charge of their own children’s education, they and their children and their children’s children, might have to wait another 100 years.
”’Laura Brown is the education reporter and researcher for HawaiiReporter.com and the education policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. She can be reached via email at”’ mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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