Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Panel backs delay in extending school day

Budget woes make such a change next year difficult, the schools chief tells senators

By Mary Vorsino


The state Department of Education wants to delay implementation of a new law that lengthens Hawaii's school day beginning this fall, saying severe budget woes make complying with the mandate next to impossible.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi estimated that keeping students in classrooms longer would cost an additional $45 million to $55 million for the next school year.

"In looking forward and trying to be thoughtful and planful about the challenges facing the department … we feel that it's really going to be very difficult to implement" the law, Matayoshi said, adding that the department is "committed" to meeting the new requirements in better budget times.

A bill advanced by the Senate Education Committee yesterday would push back implementation of the instructional hours law to the 2015-2016 school year, but would require the department to provide annual progress reports starting next school year on its efforts to prepare for lengthening the school day.

The proposed delay angered several parents, who contend that at least in the first two years, the mandatory minimums wouldn't be difficult for schools to meet.

Parent Melanie Bailey, who helped write the instructional hours law, said her research showed that some schools were already meeting the minimums and that others would have to make slight adjustments to do so next school year.

"When we put these recommendations in place, we knew that this year we would not have any more money," Bailey said. "We've had a year to look at this. I think we need to see some facts and not just take their (the DOE's) word for it."

The proposal to delay implementation of the law comes as education officials are considering bleak options for meeting potential budget reductions that could top $110 million for the coming two fiscal years. The DOE said earlier this week that grim fiscal projections were prompting them to consider a host of cost-cutting measures, including doing away with student bus transportation and slashing the per-student funding schools receive.

The instructional hours law, signed in June, grew out of parent frustration during teacher furloughs last school year, when Hawaii had the shortest instructional calendar in the nation.

Act 167 requires elementary schools to have at least 915 hours of instruction (which averages to about five hours per day) in the 2011 school year, while middle and high schools must have 990 hours of instruction (or about 5 1⁄2 hours per day). In the 2013 school year, the law calls for all schools to expand their instructional time to 1,080 hours, or six hours on average.

The law also requires that schools offer at least 180 instructional days. (This school year, students have 178 instructional days).

At the Senate hearing yesterday, parent Debbie Schatz said Act 167 is a challenge, but one that can be met. "It's the first time the children have had representation," she said. "We do need to have a minimum."

Hawaii currently falls on the low end of states when it comes to the amount of instructional time public school students receive.

In general, the school day in the islands is about six hours and includes about an hour for lunch and recess. Students receive 5 to 5 1⁄2 hours of instructional time, depending on the school, compared with six or more in other states, according to the National Center on Time and Learning.

The discussion of Hawaii's school day comes amid a national push to keep students in classrooms longer. The Obama administration has called for expanding the school day as part of overall education reforms, and pointed out American students spend far less time in school than their peers overseas.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she understands the concerns from parents — and supports more instructional time — but added that the fiscal situation is forcing everyone to cut back. "This is not an easy decision," she said.

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