Teachers union calls for tax hike to better fund schools

Teachers union calls for tax hike to better fund schools
Published: Dec. 9, 2015 at 10:48 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2015 at 4:53 AM HST
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HSTA president Corey Rosenlee
HSTA president Corey Rosenlee

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii State Teachers Association is proposing a 1 percent general excise tax hike, which the union estimates would generate $750 million a year for education needs.

"People are willing to support higher taxes for their children, We have roofs that are leaking and kids are drinking out of rusty water fountains in 90-degree classrooms," HSTA president Corey Rosenlee said.

He said some state lawmakers have voiced support for a bill the union drafted calling for the increase.

But state Sen. Sam Slom criticized HSTA's plan.

"We want better schools. We want teachers to be compensated. But this is not the way to do it -- taxation," he said.

Gov. David Ige also said he wouldn't support a tax hike, pointing out that schools already get the largest capital improvements budget of any state department.

The money would pay for art, music and Native Hawaiian courses, special ed upgrades, smaller class sizes, school supplies, teacher retention, public preschool and infrastructure improvements.

Rosenlee said the union polled 500 people and about 60 percent support raising the GET for education.

"I would pay for it if it's for education for kids in the neighborhood," said resident Irene Carle.

Resident Kezia Holm also like the idea. "I would happily pay an extra one percent to go to a cause I actually think is worthy."

But resident Francine Grace said she doesn't think more money in the state's hands will help schools.

"They'll just find more dumb things to fund, do studies on or give themselves pay raises," she said.

HSTA represents 13,500 teachers.

Teacher Louise Cayetano said she believes most would support the plan.

"They understand what the conditions are like in the classroom," she said.

Rosenlee said even if the bill is defeated it starts an important discussion. "We can't ignore this problem forever," he said. "This is the time where we really have to start fixing it."

In February, teachers will rally at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to back the tax increase.

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