2016 Legislature: $100M for cooler classrooms, new funds for supplies, teacher travel

State lawmakers concluded their session this week and the Hawaii State Teachers Association is grateful for some big wins on cooler classrooms as well as new money for teacher supplies and teacher travel.

As you have most likely already heard, HSTA successfully lobbied the Legislature for $100 million to bring air conditioning and other cooling measures to at least 1,000 classrooms across the state. That’s a huge amount compared to the several million dollars a year the Department of Education previously allocated toward heat abatement in the 63 percent of its 11,820 classrooms that have no air conditioning.

>>Click here for more on Senate Bill 3126, the classroom cooling bill.

The HSTA thanks State Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke as well as many other lawmakers for supporting the efforts to cool down classrooms. And mahalo to Gov. David Ige for proposing the 1,000-classroom initiative and including it in his state-of-the-state address.

“We want to thank many teachers who submitted testimony and spoke out about hot classrooms, efforts that helped focus the attention of the public and lawmakers on the problem,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee, who has been raising concerns about high classroom temperatures for years.

Ige signed the bill authorizing the money on Thursday, the same day the DOE said it issued its first bid request for work to begin installing air conditioning in classrooms.

Lawmakers approve school supply pilot program, funds for teacher travel

Working with key members of the Legislature, HSTA was able to secure $500,000 for a pilot program to give teachers debit cards to purchase classroom supplies. The DOE is still ironing out key details such as what schools will participate in the pilot project and how the program will work. This effort is an important first step toward helping teachers who often pay thousands of dollars of their own money for basic student necessities.

Lawmakers also approved $400,000 in new funding to pay for teachers to travel with students on educational trips. The DOE still has to work out exactly how this travel funding will be disbursed.

Another proposal that would have exempted public school teachers from the ethics code and allowed them to return to traveling with their students on trips died in a House-Senate Conference committee last week. Some lawmakers are hopeful a new state Ethics Commission member and a new executive director for the panel will revisit the issue.

Developer impact fees will be used to repair schools

The HSTA successfully lobbied lawmakers and the Board of Education for passage of proposals to expand school impact fees in Honolulu’s urban core and allow their use for school site acquisition, building repair and maintenance. Prior to this change, impact fees could only be used to build new school facilities.

>>Click here to read about the impact fee bill, SB2731

In February, the association brought hundreds of teachers to the State Capitol to rally for Schools Our Keiki Deserve, launching a grassroots campaign to organize educators and their communities to support a progressive education vision outlined in the research-based Schools Our Keiki Deserve publication, which will soon be available at hsta.org.

HSTA also worked with legislators and Board of Education members to begin implementing the newly enacted federal Every Student Succeeds Act and revise the DOE’s strategic plan. HSTA Secretary Treasurer Amy Perruso was just appointed by the governor to his ESSA task force, along with Waikiki Elementary teacher Catherine Caine.

Mahalo to a great member-driven HSTA team

Many thanks to HSTA lobbying team that spent many long hours before during and after this year’s legislative session. Mahalo also to the Government Relations Committee and the HSTA Speakers Bureau, made up of teachers from across the state who devoted many hours to preparing and delivering testimony as well as speaking to community groups to spread our message.

“This is the first year of a campaign in which HSTA is following its vision: United in the pursuit of excellence for Hawaii’s public schools,” said Rosenlee. “This was just the first year. We will continue fighting and legislators must realize that HSTA is not going away. The issues are too important. Our children are too important.”

“We have had a great year and we will have an even better one next year,” Rosenlee added.