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Governor: Public schools to face smaller budget cut than previously thought

Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 4:48 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In good news for Hawaii public schools, the state Department of Education is now facing a 2.5% cut to its budget instead of the 10% it had previously anticipated.

Gov. David Ige announced plans for the smaller cut Thursday.

In a statement, Ige said the changes to the budget forecast stemmed from the availability of additional federal funds and a more optimistic revenue projection by the Council of Revenues.

“This represents about $123 million that we can now restore to our public-school classrooms so our students can be set on the path to prosperity and success,” Ige said, in a statement.

Public schools were previously facing as much as $264 million in budget cuts over the next two years, prompting questions about which programs should be slashed.

“With 94% of the department’s funds spent directly by or for activities at the school level, these cuts will be felt by students,” DOE superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a previous interview. “We will continue to reiterate that an investment in students is an investment in Hawaii’s future.”

However, the Hawaii State Teachers Association said there are hundreds of staff members who are still in jeopardy of losing jobs.

“HSTA is happy that the government is putting more money towards education,” said the union’s president Corey Rosenlee. “But we want to do clarify, even with this amount, that the Department of Education still has the largest budget cut before. And this will still lead to nearly 700 teachers losing their jobs.”

In response to the governor’s announcement, Kishimoto issued the following statement:

“This is an extremely challenging time for the state with a lot of uncertainty and unknowns. I want to sincerely thank Gov. Ige and the Department of Budget & Finance for their continued support and willingness to work collaboratively with the Department to prioritize public education. We know there are competing priorities and tough decisions to be made, and we look forward to continued conversation on how we best support our students and protect public education.

As we move through the legislative process, we are committed to restoring funding closest to our students and schools, and finding solutions to other shortfall areas to stabilize school operations.”

In a meeting with the Board of Education, Kishimoto admitted that there is “nothing certain” about the DOE budget, but she said there will be an improved and streamlined process as they reorganize the department.

The board’s committee on finance and infrastructure chose to hold off on voting on the DOE plan on using the $183 million in federal relief funds.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden laid out his coronavirus strategy, which included plans to reopen schools by ramping up testing and vaccinations and providing more funding to schools.

This story may be updated.

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