Education advocates scramble to find public school funding after constitutional amendment blocked

Parents joined teachers at Hawaii schools to rally in support of the constitutional amendment.
Parents joined teachers at Hawaii schools to rally in support of the constitutional amendment.
Published: Oct. 22, 2018 at 8:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After the Hawaii Supreme Court blocked a controversial proposal that would’ve raised investment property taxes to help fund public schools, education advocates are now scrambling for a “Plan B.”

"At this moment, we do not have any specific plans of what we're going to go forward with, and that all depends on where the conversations lead us," said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

State lawmakers say they are looking at other ideas in the meantime, including utilizing unused state land to generate money for schools or creating on-site housing to help retain teachers.

"Act 155 would allow us to take the state property, DOE lands, and market them. Whether we put condos or retail, etc., we can use that to fund our schools. The DOE has given us a number of sites that could be used," said State Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Those who opposed the constitutional amendment say they also want to help better Hawaii's public school system, but they don't believe additional funding is the answer.

University of Hawaii professor emeritus Randy Roth says the education department needs to manage their money better.

When you include other education expenditures, such as teacher fringe benefits, Roth says DOE's annual operating budget is closer to $3 billion than $2 billion.

Roth says that means the state currently spends around $14,000 per student -- that's 17-percent above the national average.

"There are a lot of people who believe that $3 billion dollars a year for operations is enough. We're a little concerned that maybe the money isn't being spent as well as it should be. It's very difficult to tell because of the lack of transparency," Roth said.

Roth also says when you look at why teachers leave Hawaii, many of the reasons are not about money, but frustration with the school curriculum.

"They feel like they're straight-jacketed. They feel like they're being expected to teach from a script. I believe very strongly if you address that, you're going to have a big impact on teacher retention," said Roth.

But Hawaii’s superintendent of schools insists the money is being used appropriately.

"93-percent of the state's budget is in schools, in the classrooms, either directly in hands of principals or shared services like buses and food. I cannot keep up this pace of work if I'm not able to pay my teachers, my administrators, my staff, competitively," said Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.

Kishimoto says over the next several months, DOE will be conducting a teacher salary compensation study to see where Hawaii's teachers stand nationwide.

The Education Institute of Hawaii is also conducting a study to see how the department is spending its money.

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