Board of education request to legislature: $65M more, please

By Nanea Kalani / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KIP AOKI / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The state’s public school system wants about $40 million in additional operating funds for next year that would help boost teaching staff at most schools and another $25 million in capital funds to start cooling classrooms with air conditioning.

The Board of Education on Tuesday approved its budget request for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The money would be on top of $1.37 billion in general funds lawmakers approved for the Department of Education earlier this year as part of the state’s two-year budget.

State departments have to submit their so-called supplemental requests today, and the Legislature will take up the budget in January.

Half of the requested $40 million would go to schools through the so-called Weighted Student Formula, or per-pupil funding pot. The funds amount to about 1.5 teaching positions for each of the 252 schools that receive per-pupil dollars, but principals would be able to choose how to spend the money.

Board Chairman Don Horner said the increase acknowledges the added responsibilities schools are handling to meet a host of education reforms, including new teacher evaluations, tougher curriculum standards and other initiatives.

“We’ve given them a lot more responsibility; we need to give them the dollars,” Horner said of schools and staff. “It’s also acknowledgment of the hard work they’ve done over the last two to three years,” he said, citing improved test scores and graduation rates. “And we’re asking the Legislature to acknowledge that hard work and continue that momentum.”
The board voted to increase the department’s original request for $13.6 million in added per-pupil funds. But it’s still lower than the $34 million the Committee on Weights, which meets every other year to review the weighted student formula, had recommended.
State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, who also serves on the Ways and Means Committee, said she’s glad the department will ask for the additional per-pupil funds. She said she’s been meeting with school principals statewide to get feedback on the weighted approach to financing schools and has repeatedly heard a need for more resources.
Some of the other big-ticket items in the operating request include:

» $10.6 million for school utilities. The existing budget assumes $8 million in energy-efficiency savings tied to a now-delayed plan to install solar photovoltaic systems. The increase also accounts for projected rate increases.
» $3 million for the new Strive HI school accountability system, which largely replaces academic mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The money would fund 22 support positions and awards for high-achieving schools.
» $482,000 for accreditation costs through the Western Association for Schools and Colleges.
» $266,000 for the department’s Internal Audit branch.

The department had initially penciled in an additional $16 million to provide services for adult special-education students in response to a recent court ruling. But Amy Kunz, the department’s chief financial office, instead recommended inserting a nominal placeholder in the budget to keep options open as the budget makes it way to the governor and legislators.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in August said Hawaii’s law banning students older than 20 from public schools “runs afoul” of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which entitles disabled children to a free public education until they turn 22. The ruling could affect the nearly 20,000 special-education students enrolled in the school system who could benefit from extra time to earn a diploma.

On the capital improvements side, the department hadn’t proposed any budget changes, but board members voted to add $25 million for air conditioning classrooms.
The board asked the department to come up with scenarios for spreading the funds across as many schools as possible on an internal priority list, should the money come through.
The move comes on the heels of a rally and campaign calling for air conditioning led by Campbell High School, which is fourth on the priority list for temperature controls. In the last seven years, only four campuses have been air-conditioned. Of 255 campuses statewide, 12 schools have central air conditioning.

Board member Jim Williams said the board recognizes “this $25 million figure is not a precise, scientific figure, but a ballpark figure that should be reasonable and should move the ball forward.”
He added, “I just think that it’s necessary to look at the physical learning environment. We focus on the programmatic environment, but when you’re in a hot classroom, all the other stuff falls aside … if you’re sweating to the point where your brain is overheating.”

Campbell teacher Corey Rosenlee, who helped organize the rally, said a classroom there last month recorded temperatures ranging from 88 to 91 degrees over a one-week period. Another topped 95 degrees.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Rosenlee said of the funding request. “Now we need to work on bringing down the cost of air conditioning.”
The department has estimated that installing air conditioning in all classrooms would cost more than $1 billion and nearly triple its electric bill.

Hawaii DOE Budget