Teach for America in Hawaii faces losing about $1 million in state funding, which the organization said would drastically hamper efforts to train and support teachers in struggling schools.
The organization has been in Hawaii since 2006, receiving $870,000 in 2012 and 2013 to help the state Department of Education fill a teacher shortage.
But its state funding was cut in half in the House version of the budget and in full by the Senate’s $12 billion budget passed last week. Conference committee discussions on the budget could begin this week.
“It’s a huge impact for us,” said Ruth Bolan, managing director of external affairs for Teach for America in Hawaii. “It’s a huge hit.”
Hawaii has long relied on recruiting teachers from the mainland to work in schools that are difficult to staff. Teach for America in recent years has also been focusing on training teachers who are from Hawaii so that they return home and work in classrooms where their roots are.
The organization expected to bring about 100 teachers to Hawaii this year, but the funding could mean reducing that number in half in the future, Bolan said. The priority will be to keep those from Hawaii who make up about 40 percent of the corps, she said.
Teach for America is “a valuable component of our recruitment strategy as its teachers fill approximately 8 to 9 percent of job openings each year,” state education department spokesman Alex Da Silva said in a statement. “TFA helps us recruit, train and certify teachers in remote locations and hard-to-fill subjects such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and special education.”
Bolan said the cuts may force Teach for America to close its office on the Big Island, where schools are especially difficult to staff.
Campbell High School graduate Jester Galiza, 25, saw his full scholarship to Dartmouth University and the prospect of attending medical school as putting his hardscrabble Ewa Beach youth far behind him. But in his senior year of college, he realized, “I was losing part of my identity, that I was losing a part of who I was.”
He saw Teach for America as a way to come home and make a difference. He taught math at Campbell for two years and is now based on the Big Island, where he serves as a coach for new Teach for America corps members across the island.
“My position probably would be non-existent,” he said of the cuts.
Teach for America Hawaii matches public dollars 4-to-1 with private funding, and losing state funding could jeopardize that private support, Bolan said.
“It’s not over yet,” said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, a member of the Education Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. “I remain hopeful that we can do something.”
While tough cuts have to be made, she called the organization a “good investment,” that has helped create Hawaii-grown teachers. “It really has become a kamaaina come home kind of program,” she said.
Even the teachers who aren’t from Hawaii make valuable contributions, she said, noting that some of them put down roots here and take on leadership roles.
They also contribute to a “global education,” she said.
“There is a benefit to giving our students exposure to teachers who are not necessarily from here,” Tokuda said. “Part of that is exposing (students) to new cultures, new experiences. What better way to do that than with individuals who have lived in different places?”