Column: Why states are losing battle to increase public school funding
On Oct. 19, the Hawaii Supreme Court threw out the constitutional amendment ballot measure that would have allowed the public to vote on using an investment property surcharge to increase public education funding.
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On Oct. 19, the Hawaii Supreme Court threw out the constitutional amendment ballot measure that would have allowed the public to vote on using an investment property surcharge to increase public education funding. The decision terminated the product of a two-year legislative process involving 8,000-plus pieces of testimony. The ruling came as a blow to teachers, students and community advocates who had worked tirelessly to counter prolific misinformation spread by opponents, such as the Affordable Hawaii Coalition. Such claims strategically used the public’s limited knowledge on legislative processes and education policy to create confusion, skepticism and doubt in the community.
For proponents of the constitutional amendment, naysayers were certainly frustrating; however, this frustration paled in comparison to the frustration felt when the Supreme Court disabled democracy by striking the measure from the ballot. Citing HRS Chapter 11-118.5 in its ruling, the high court claimed that the language and meaning of the ballot question were unclear and misleading. As alarming as this was, what’s more alarming is that Hawaii is not the first state in which this has happened.
In August, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down Proposition 207, a ballot initiative that would have provided an additional $690 million in revenue for education by increasing income taxes on the wealthy. The Arizona ruling was strikingly similar to the Hawaii ruling, with the courts claiming the wording of the proposition was confusing.
In Colorado, Proposition 73, which would raise corporate taxes and personal income taxes on high earners, is still on the ballot — much to the chagrin of Blank Check. Blatant Deception (BCBD). BCBD is made up of organizations such as the Colorado Association of Realtors, Colorado Bankers Association, and Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers.
BCBD there is using many of the tactics employed by the Affordable Hawaii Coalition here to instill doubt in voters: Its website includes fear-based rhetoric such as “amendment 73 is a $1.6 billion per year blank check for bureaucrats.” Clearly, BCBD is waging a very calculated, well-funded attack against public education with almost the exact same strategies employed by the opposition here at home.
There appears to be a concerted attempt by society’s most wealthy and powerful to dismantle efforts to properly fund public education across multiple states, and local residents are buying into it. Educational reformer Horace Mann famously said that education is the great equalizer; however, this holds true only if it is a high-quality education. When you have the power players in society waging a war against quality public education, socioeconomic inequality continues to grow while those in power ensure they stay in power.
This is why it is urgent that Hawaii residents come to the table to work toward creating solutions to fund education. Although voting for education is off the table for now, the conversation on how to increase funding for our schools continues. Recent events have made it clear that the opposition’s narrative is a manufactured one being deployed wherever there’s an effort to increase public school funding. Not only does this narrative undermine teachers, legislators and community leaders who work tirelessly to ensure every child in this country has an equitable education, it also discounts the general public’s ability to think critically about what it means to invest in our society.
We are at a crossroads. It is time to come together, as a unified front, and work on solutions. It is time for conversation. It is time for action. It is time to fully fund public education.
Christine Russo, an Ewa Beach resident, is a public high school teacher.