Gov. David Ige had good news to share with the Hawaii Department of Education this morning – that it would not have to reduce its overall budget by as much as originally anticipated.
Ige had originally directed all state departments including the DOE, to reduce their overall budgets by a target of 10% to deal with shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This morning, he said the DOE could now revise that target reduction to 2.5%, or $123 million less will have to be cut.
“Due to the pandemic and subsequent reduction in revenues, we anticipated that the Department of Education, which is the largest general funded department, would have to take a 10% cut to its budget,” said Ige in a statement. “However, with additional federal funds and more optimistic revenue projections by the Council on Revenues, we are able to reset the department’s target reductions to 2.5%. This represents about $123 million dollars that we can now restore to our public-school classrooms so our students can be set on the path to prosperity and success.”
The Hawaii Board of Education welcomed the news at its meeting today, and discussed how the funds, which could be reallocated to keep staff in place at public schools.
Under current projections, the 10% cut amounting to $164 million per fiscal year from 2021-2023 would have resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, including hundreds of teachers, librarians and counselors, along with educational assistants and clerks.
It would also have cut out numerous programs, including enrichment classes, physical education, gifted and talented programs, art, robotics and other services.
In light of the changes, subject to approval by the State Legislature, the board’s committee on finance and infrastructure decided this afternoon to defer action on the DOE’s plan for the use of $183.6 million in federal relief funds allotted to the state from the Education Stabilization Fund.
The committee chair said it would be prudent for the department to change their recommendations to reflect the new numbers, and to allow the public time to give its input on them.
Even with the reduction, the department faces a significant budget shortfall, including the $41 million left over, in addition to the loss of $100.2 million imposed for this fiscal year.
Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said even with the revised budget, some 700 teachers could still potentially be laid off.
The HSTA earlier this week said the budget cuts and layoffs proposed by the governor and school superintendent violate federal rules that come with the use of stimulus funds.
Those rules — in place to ensure federal funds are used for the intended purpose — say a state must continue to pay its employees and contractors during disruptions related to the coronavirus and maintain support for elementary and secondary education proportional to the three fiscal years prior to COVID-19.
Ronsenlee said even with the restoration of $123 million, the state is not in compliance with these requirements. He said based on the union’s preliminary estimates, the state needs $170 million to $180 million in its budget for public schools to comply with the rules.