Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Column: State must prioritize funding of public education in budget

Lois Yamauchi
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Lois Yamauchi

Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i (PPS Hawai‘i) is speaking out on behalf of families throughout the statewide school system to condemn the draconian cuts proposed to the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) 2021-23 operating budget. PPS Hawai‘i is a nonprofit organization of family and community members that supports and works to improve public education in Hawaii through family engagement. We have over 1,200 members statewide and aspire to provide the family voice in decisions about public education in our state.

The COVID pandemic and resulting distance learning has resulted in a tumultuous calendar year for our public school youngsters. This was validated in two surveys that our group conducted in May and September 2020. Most notably, while families voiced the desire to have face-to-face learning, they expressed concerns for the safety of their children, teaching staff, and families.

Respondents commented about the shortcomings of distance learning, including limitations of online teaching and learning, criticisms of the Acellus program, accommodations for multiple children in one household, concern for children’s social-emotional needs, teaching inconsistencies, and too much screen time.

It is now time for mid-term course correction as the DOE adjusts and accommodates public school students who are not being well served, are requiring more special services or are failing to make the grade.

As noted in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the statewide accountability has been piecemeal on a school-by-school basis. While school-specific data are useful, that belies a lack of a comprehensive approach to the situation. As the DOE looks at the next biennial budget, it will need to offer that.

Further, support for our public school teachers should not waver. Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, indicated that proposed cuts to the education budget — 10% reduction in the weighted student formula and 9% cut to the special education funding — could mean a loss of 1,000 teachers. This would only exacerbate the teacher shortages, leading to the loss of experienced and dedicated teachers especially serving vulnerable groups of youngsters.

We charge all citizens to be engaged in resolving this matter. Schools are currently creating their academic-financial plans that will be presented in the next two weeks. To that end, school principals need to collaborate with their teaching staff to find creative and resourceful ways to deliver engaging and quality education that our keiki deserve. Family and school community members need to be informed and participate in their local school’s School Community Councils (SCC) in order to review and assess these plans.

The statewide school system needs to be more accountable, transparent and communicate comprehensive planning and projections for the future. We cannot simply do what has been done before.

Educators should not go it alone. The governor and state Legislature need to be challenged to stay the course for public education. All of us need to speak to our elected officials and urge them to restore funding to our schools.

PPS Hawai‘i emerged from the Furlough Friday crisis of 2009. We cannot balance the state budget on our children’s future. It was a bad idea then, and it is a bad idea now.

Everyone must stand up for the future of public schools in Hawaii.

Lois Yamauchi is president of Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i.

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