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Lawmakers OK delay on longer school day

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    A single electric fan circulates air in Sherwin Aquino’s classroom at Pohakea Elementary School. Air conditioning is being installed at the school

A bill that partially delays implementation of a law to lengthen Hawaii’s school day is headed to the governor’s desk after passing both chambers of the state Legislature yesterday.

The bill gives the Department of Education more time to meet minimums for instructional time laid out in Act 167, which was passed last legislative session in the wake of teacher furloughs.

“The bill represents our best-faith effort to comply with Act 167,” said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “I’m committed to making sure that we make good” on the law.

Under the measure, half of the state’s elementary schools will be required to have at least five hours and five minutes of instructional time 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 with the law by 2014, offering at least 5 1⁄2 hours of instruction on average each day.

Act 167 called for all schools to comply with minimums for instructional time by next school year.

The full Senate passed the bill yesterday with three members voting no, including state Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai), a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Slom said the measure waters down Act 167 and represents a concession to the Hawaii State Teachers Association at the expense of students.

“This to me is really baloney,” Slom said after the vote yesterday. “I don’t think we have the political backbone to do what we should have done.”

Tokuda strongly disagreed, saying the bill balanced the needs of students with the realities of schools during tough budget times.

“This is attainable,” Tokuda said, adding that “while we’re really pushing to comply with Act 167 … we all know that ‘seat time’ alone does not result in student achievement.”

The measure passed the House with 10 no votes.

The bill approved yesterday exempts public charter and multitrack schools, and keeps a requirement from Act 167 that all schools have at least 180 instructional days.

Act 167 also had called for further extending the school day in 2013, to offer at least six hours of instruction per day. Under the bill approved yesterday, that ambitious goal will be pushed back to 2016.

Lawmakers drew up the compromise after hearing concerns from the DOE over how much it would cost to comply with the law at a time when the department is facing budget cuts.

Teachers have also worried the law would force them to give up valuable preparation time.

Meanwhile, several parent advocacy groups have criticized the postponement of Act 167’s requirements.

Currently, the amount of instructional time offered at elementary schools statewide varies widely — from 41⁄3 to six hours on average each day.

Some 37 elementary schools already meet the minimums for next school year, according to DOE figures. Dozens more are close.

No secondary schools, meanwhile, currently meet the minimums that will begin in 2014.

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