A Constitutional Amendment question on public education funding will be on the General Election Ballot. In his second report on this issue, HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka provides the teacher’s union perspective.
Hawai’i is the only state that doesn’t use real property taxes to fund public education. Hawai’i State Teachers Association president, Corey Rosenlee, explains.
“A hundred years ago, most of the land was owned by a relative few, large landowners. And, the specifically did not wanna fund public education because, one, it would come from their pockets, and, two, they had an interest in making sure that the children of their plantation workers did not get a good education so they would have no other choice but to stay on a plantation.”
The Constitutional Amendment would provide the legislature with the authority to establish a surcharge on investment property to support public education. Cynthia Tong is an award-winning public school teacher in Ewa.
“As a social justice issue, this is something that we can change in history by allowing people who don’t even live in Hawai’i, who have investment properties and they’re making an awful lot of money, let them pay the tax on that.”
The investment property surcharge would also help to increase teacher salaries, which the HSTA says, are among the lowest in the nation. Higher salaries would help fill the 1-thousand teacher vacancies statewide and provide students with qualified teachers. HSTA president Rosenlee says the goal is to help all students, even the ones not planning to go to college.
“We have a huge shortage of career and technical education teachers because, who in their right mind earning $80-90-thousand as an auto mechanic wants to teach for $50-thousand a year. So, one of the things we’re really promoting with this Constitutional Amendment is the idea of a better career and technical education system.”
The money could also be used to increase classroom funding. Tong says many teachers – herself included -- spend their own money for pens, paper and even food for their students. The classrooms, facilities and furnishings also need upgrading.
“I have seen desks, literally, that I have been able to age back to grandfather time. I graduated from Aiea High School and my desk is still in that school. (laugh) My daughter went to that school and her desk is still in that school.”
Rosenlee, whose mother was also a school teacher, says voters have an opportunity to change history and fund public education to the national standard.
“We are last in the nation in the percent of revenue that goes to education. That should be an embarrassment and we gotta change that. Vote “yes” on the Constitutional Amendment. Support our Keiki. Fund our schools. Give Hawai’i a better future.”
In my final report, some of the perspectives from those weighing in on this issue. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.