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House Education Committee Recommends Using CARES Act Funding to Pay Hawaii Teachers

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The state of Hawaii Department of Education has been debating how to use federal stimulus funds as it faces steeps budgets cuts. A bill at the state legislature would use the money to pay teachers to avoid furloughs and layoffs, and it has the support of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. 

The measure (HB 613) would push the state DOE to use federal CARES funds for teaching positions cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But school Superintendent Christina Kishimoto says that would not be the best use of the money.

"My recommendation to the Board of Education for these one-time funds is to provide solutions to address unmet needs for public school resources to address severe learning gaps, provide for health and safety measures related to reopening schools, and offset critical shortfall areas, which goes beyond the staffing component," Kishimoto said. "We agree school leaders, teachers and staff are an important component to an effective education system, and believe these positions need to be secured through permanent positions and permanent funding, not one-time relief funds."

The DOE currently plans to use the funds to offset learning loss through one-to-one tutoring and to provide sanitation materials for schools. But the state's teachers union and education advocates like He‘e Coalition say federal funds should be used to pay for teachers.

"We agree that the priority should be on restoring positions at the school level and that the federal funds should be used to guarantee that these positions are maintained," Cheri Nakamura, director of He‘e Coalition, said. "To be more specific, we think that the personnel in the classroom, those who are closest to our students, should be the highest priority."

Corey Rosenlee, president of Hawaii State Teachers Association, worries that educators could start leaving as the teacher transfer notification date is in one week.

"We're talking that in just a couple of days, these people have been told their positions no longer exist at their schools," Rosenlee said. "And they're taking a pay cut on top of all of this. I cannot tell you, I mean, if you're a brand new teacher is basically told there's no position for you, you're taking a pay cut, when you barely can survive here, they're leaving. And we have the stimulus funding in order to deal with this right now, where we cdan tell the schools right now, we can put the $132 million back at the school level, so that we can make sure that we maintain all these positions."

Kishimoto says instead of spending CARES funds on these positiosn, the state Legislature should reinstate the department's budget. 

The state House Education Committee passed the measure to use federal funds for teacher staffing. It now goes to finance committee for further consideration.

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