A poll commissioned by HawaiiKidsCAN found strong support for boosting spending on public education, but homelessness ranked as the top voter priority by far.
In response to an open-ended question, 34 percent of respondents in the telephone survey said homelessness was the most important issue for state government to tackle — more than twice the showing for any other topic.
“Improving public education” and “traffic congestion/transportation” tied for second place at 15 percent. Underscoring voters’ concern about shelter, “affordable housing” came next, garnering 14 percent, the same percentage that named “economy, jobs and wages.”
HawaiiKidsCAN, a nonprofit that advocates for equity and innovation in public education, hired Solutions Pacific to create the telephone poll, which was conducted Jan. 28 to Feb. 5 by Ward Research. Results were released Tuesday. It had a random sample of 404 voters statewide and a 4.9 percent margin of error.
The survey showed 77 percent of respondents believed the state should provide more funding for public education, while 18 percent said public education was adequately funded and 5 percent offered no opinion.
“People want more money in education, but thinking about how you use it strategically is important,” said David Miyashiro, executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN and a former special education teacher. “We have a limited amount of funds. We’ve got some really pressing issues.”
As for how to target education spending, 81 percent of respondents said public schools should be able to pay special education teachers more than other teachers.
The state has a severe shortage of special education teachers. Part of the problem is the workload such teachers face, according to Ryan Mandado, who heads the special education department at Campbell High School, the largest in the state.
“The amount of work that goes into being a special education teacher is just way more than the average duties of a general education teacher,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Special education teachers must handle mounds of paperwork, collect data for students they teach and those on their caseload, create and track goals for students and communicate with families, he said.
Among other findings of the poll:
>> 54 percent of respondents who have/had students in public schools believe they prepare graduates for the workforce vs. 44 percent of those with no kids in public schools.
>> 89 percent believe high school students should complete hands-on work experience before graduation.
>> 76 percent said hands- on experience should be geared toward high-growth, high-wage industries.
>> 80 percent believe it is important to hire principals with experience outside the Department of Education system.
>> 75 percent say a college diploma is necessary to be successful.
>> 57 percent believe parents should be able to select the public school of their choice.
“The results of this poll confirm what we have heard time and time again as community-based advocates,” Miyashiro said. “Hawaii residents want our public schools to have the resources and policies they need to provide quality educational opportunities for all students.”
A bill that would have raised taxes for education passed the Senate but House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke said she will not consider it this year. Senate Bill 1474 would have increased the general excise tax from 4 percent to 4.5 percent to provide a dedicated funding source for the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii.