Perspectives: Constitutional Amendment for Public Education

Aug 16, 2018

Investment Property Surcharge to Fund Public Education
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Funding for public education will be a Constitutional Amendment question on the General Election Ballot, November 6th.  HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka provides a few viewpoints on this issue.

House Speaker Scott Saiki
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The State Department of Education receives nearly 2-billion dollars in state and federal funding.  House Speaker Scott Saiki says that’s more than 20 percent of state’s total budget.

“I don’t understand why there always seems to be – you know – these complaints that the schools lacks sufficient supplies and resources and other kinds of things.  I’m not sure if this is a function of not enough money or if it’s also because dollars aren’t spent wisely at the Department of Education.”

Public school teacher Cynthia Tong says a big chunk of that funding never reaches the classroom.

Christine Tong, public school teacher
Credit HSTA

“Unfortunately, I tend to think that the Department of Education has a lot of administrative requirements are put on it by the federal and the state government.  Those people doing those reports, they’re not at the school level.  They’re not directly touching kids.”

In 2017, the Hawai’i State Teacher’s Association told lawmakers that a surcharge on one million dollar investment properties could raise about half a billion.  But, Hawai’i Tax Foundation President, Tom Yamachika, says that amount is unrealistic and could require other steps be taken.

“So, where’s the difference going to come from?  They either have to go to commercial property or they have to make the thresholds a lot lower or they have to start going into other, more broad definitions of investment property.”

Tom Yamachika, president, Hawai'i Tax Foundation
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

But, Hawai’i Association of Realtors president, Frank Goodale, says taxing investors will impact the rental market and displace many people, including new teachers.

“It’s always good to remember that behind every renter is an investor.  And, without an investor, we have homelessness.  We need to treat our investors well, or they will not the replacement properties that we need to house our renters.”

HSTA president, Corey Rosenlee
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

But, HSTA president Corey Rosenlee says the lowest teacher’s pay in the nation, 60-plus year-old facilities and outdated books are unacceptable.  

“One of the most important things that we can do is invest in our children.  It’s good for the economy, it’s good for our society, it reduces homelessness, it reduces crime.  And, it’s time that in Hawai’i we say that this is important to us.  We gotta invest in our kids and this is a way to do it.”

House Speaker Saiki says it’s now up to the voters to weigh in. 

“Public opinion polls show that the public supports increased funding for schools, including situations where taxes need to be raised to generate that additional revenue.  So that’s exactly what this question presents to voters in November.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.