Funding for public education will be a key issue again for legislators next year. But first, the debate should focus on how the public school system can do a better job with the money they currently receive.
The State Department of Education receives 2 billion dollars in state and federal funds each year. DOE Superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, says the perception that money can be saved by cutting administrative positions and overhead is just not true.
“That is an ongoing myth. Ninety-three percent of our state funds are in schools, in the classrooms. Ninety-three percent of the state’s budget is in schools, is in schools, in classrooms. Either directly in the hands of principals or in shared services like busing and food. And so we’re very, very proud of that real dedication to putting funds in the hands of our principals for decision-making.”
That equates to about 140-million dollars that do not directly support schools or classrooms. But, former State Senator, Jill Tokuda, who chaired the Education, Higher Education and Ways and Means Committees, says the DOE can do better. Her experiences as a mother of two boys in public school point to a system with waste and inefficiencies.
“As a mom, who still fills out – I swear – ten sheets of paper every single beginning of the school year, per child. And, I’ve had arguments as to why I fill out one form because my child clearly doesn’t qualify. But, I have to check the “no” box and I know that when I do that, that somebody has to on the other end, fill out that I checked a “no” box. And, if I filled out all these forms last year, why can’t I not put it into a computer one year and just every year update it with new information if it is applicable.”
Hawai’i State Teachers Association president, Corey Rosenlee, says low teacher salaries are only part of the overall funding shortfall for public education. He says additional funding is required across the board.
“We have got to improve our public schools. We have to
find a way to increase funding for public schools and that’s what we must do. There are some big questions that we still have in front of us. For example, what are we gonna do with the teacher’s shortage crisis? How you gonna make sure every child has a proper facilities in which to learn i?. How do we deal with the needs of special education students? How do we ensure our public preschools are available to all of our students? And, finally, how do we fund each of those initiatives?”
But, Tokuda says increasing the DOE budget will not be enough. She says the public school system is in need of restructuring… creatively and aggressively.
“How do create a system, working with our unions, working with our administrators and, more importantly, talking with out teachers. How do you create a system that ensures those innovative, dedicated, committed teachers, do feel rewarded, engaged and committed to stay. And, those types of changes, sometimes, are not easy and sometimes the systems that come out at the end of those discussions look nothing like what we had for the last 30 or 40 years.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.