Hawaii first state at risk of losing education money

Published: Dec. 22, 2011 at 4:56 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2011 at 1:32 AM HST
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Letter to Governor Neil Abercrombie
Letter to Governor Neil Abercrombie
Kathryn Matayoshi, State Superintendent
Kathryn Matayoshi, State Superintendent

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Department of Education is struggling to make the grade and now the state has been warned it could lose $75 million in federal funding as a result.

Hawaii is one of 10 states in line to get millions of dollars for education and the state has to speed up its new policy plans if it wants to keep the money.  Slow progress and missed milestones are a couple reasons why the state was put on high risk status for the Race to the Top money.

"Because of Hawaii's unsatisfactory performance during the first 14 months of the grant, we are placing Hawaii's race to the top grant on high-risk status," wrote Ann Whalen, U.S. Department of Education Policy and Program Implementation Director, in a letter to Governor Neil Abercrombie.

"The State has not demonstrated adequate progress implementing its approved plans," wrote Whalen.  "The Department is concerned about the State's ability to fulfill its commitments within the grant period."

"They are really trying to send a statement out not only to us but to all the race states that they are going to take those timelines very seriously," said Kathryn Matayoshi, State Superintendent. "Their comment to us is that they are not looking for us to fail. They are looking for us to succeed but they want us to know they are serious about their deadlines."

The superintendent admits they got off to a slow start.  Now the state will be placed on cost reimbursement basis effective immediately, meaning it must provide monthly updates to see if adequate progress is being made. It must also get approval for spending and submit receipts for expenses.

"We will have to accelerate our timelines. We'll have to be more focused on this work. It's not going to be easy but I think it's doable," said Matayoshi.

Some of the state's problems include struggling to fill vacancies, not placing strong teachers at weak schools and delays in finalizing teacher contracts.  Without a revised contract the state can't start new initiatives like performance based pay or evaluation systems.

"We cannot allow the children to become victims of the failure of adults to come to reasonable agreements and reasonable time," said Governor Neil Abercrombie. "I'm asking everybody put aside your own particular politics and start thinking about the children. Let's get moving on this we cannot let our children down. For too long we've allowed it to slip behind. We always talk about the keiki, Hawaii's love for the keiki but now you have to put some programs and proposals behind it and put some meaning behind it."

The governor says the state must stop lagging behind.  He told staff to get moving to get the new teaching standards in place and to finalize the teacher's contract.

"Either this gets done right away or I'm going to the legislature with the necessary legislative proposals to see that it happens," said Governor Abercrombie.

"HSTA has always been open and ready to talk.  Educators are key partners in every successful education reform effort.  The importance of collaboration must be emphasized in Race to the Top discussions if the federal money is to be used efficiently and effectively. However, the Administration must place more emphasis on fostering the systems of support the Hawaii Department of Education needs and sustainability of reforms generated by Race to the Top beyond the next four years," said Wil Okabe, Hawaii State Teachers Association President, in a written statement.

U.S. Department of Education representatives will do an onsite inspection the end of January.  Hawaii administrators will have to provide clear and compelling evidence they've made substantial progress.

To read the letter from the U.S. Department of Education to Gov. Abercrombie click HERE.

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