Legislators are supporting a partial delay in implementing a law that lengthens Hawaii’s school day, giving half of the state’s elementary schools and all secondary schools more time to meet the requirement for enough instructional hours.
Under a bill unanimously approved yesterday by a House-Senate conference committee, half of Hawaii’s 167 elementary schools will be required to begin having at least five hours of instruction per day, on average, by next school year.
All elementary schools will have to reach the minimum by the 2012-13 school year.
Middle and high schools will have to comply by 2014, offering at least 51⁄2 hours of instruction on average each day.
The measure would amend a law passed last legislative session requiring all schools to start hitting the minimums for instructional hours starting next school year.
Lawmakers said the bill is a compromise designed to please parents pushing for longer school days while allaying concerns from the Department of Education and teachers union.
"I think it definitely represents a good-faith effort (to comply with the law) while at the same time being realistic," said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. "We’re committed to working on this."
But parent advocacy groups were disappointed yesterday that more schools won’t be required to meet the minimums next school year.
"I think we were hopeful they would have been a little bit more aggressive," said Kathy Hunter of the Hui for Excellence in Education. "We thought all elementary schools could comply."
The DOE has said that fully complying with Act 167, passed in the 2010 session to lengthen Hawaii’s school day, could cost as much as $55 million at a time when the department is facing big budget reductions.
Teachers, meanwhile, feared the law would force them to work longer hours without more pay.
State Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the House Education Committee, said Act 167 had "good intentions" but that its requirements aren’t feasible given the gloomy budget picture.
He added that it is important to give secondary schools more time to figure out how to meet the minimum — and determine whether instructional time includes extracurricular activities.
"‘Instructional hours’ is not crystal clear in the current measure," Takumi said.
The bill that moved forward yesterday, which now goes to the full House and Senate for final votes, keeps a requirement that schools have at least 180 instructional days.
Charter and multitrack schools are exempted from minimum requirements for instructional hours and days.
The measure also gives the Board of Education the power to grant waivers to schools that cannot meet the minimums.
Thirty-seven elementary schools already meet the minimum for instruction for next school year, set at 915 hours of instruction (which averages to about five hours per day).
Dozens more would have to add 10 minutes or less on average to their school day to get there, according to DOE figures.
"Some schools are very close," said schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, adding that between now and the start of the coming school year, she will work with principals and the teachers union to bring more schools up to the minimum.
The instructional-hours issue is subject to union negotiations. Teachers must also approve new school bell schedules with a two-thirds vote.
No high schools meet the minimum for secondary schools under Act 167, set at 990 hours of instruction per year (or about 51⁄2 hours per day), the DOE said.
The instructional-hours law, written in the wake of teacher furloughs last school year, was designed to bring the length of Hawaii school days up to par with other states.
Under Act 167, the minimums for the amount of instructional time students receive was set to further increase in 2013. The law called for all schools to offer at least 1,080 instructional hours per year, or six hours on average per day.
Under the bill approved yesterday, however, that requirement would be pushed back to 2016.
MORE TIME IN CLASS
Lawmakers advanced a bill yesterday to push back requirements of Act 167, aimed at lengthening Hawaii’s school day. Here is the new timetable under the bill:
>> 2011-12 school year: At least half of elementary schools must have a minimum average of five hours of instruction per day (22 percent meet that standard now).
>> 2012-13: All elementary schools must meet that standard.
>> 2014-15: Middle schools and high schools will have to offer at least 51⁄2 hours of instruction per day, on average.
>> 2016-17: Minimums for all schools will increase to at least six hours of classroom time per day, on average. This standard was originally scheduled to take effect in 2013-14.