IN THE NEWS: Are Hawaii classrooms funded properly for all students?
Teachers appeal for basic supplies as prices rise, but budget remains the same
By Keoki Kerr
While operational funding for public schools in Hawaii has remained virtually flat over the last seven years, the cost for nearly everything, including school supplies, has gone up. That’s resulted in schools and teachers asking donors in crowdfunding sites for basic supplies such as pencils, paper and staples.
“Our essential base budget, our general fund budget, has essentially been static since 2008,” said schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
While the consumer price index has risen 20 percent since 2008, the state’s operating budget for the Department of Education has risen just nine percent, and most of that money went to cover pay raises for unionized workers in labor contracts, DOE officials said. That leaves less and less money for the basics.
At Liholiho Elementary School in Kaimuki, teachers are enjoying using a brand new photocopy machine and 50 new desktop computers just arrived last week for the computer lab. They are part of than $40,000 worth of equipment has been donated by the trust of a retired kindergarten teacher here who died this year at age 92.
“We’re just amazed at all this support from a dedicated teacher and her remembrance has occurred this year,” said Christina Small, Liholiho’s principal.
But not all public schools are that lucky.
A Hawaii nonprofit group called communityhelpingschools.org posts wish lists from public school teachers for donors and many of the requests are incredibly basic. One elementary school is asking for staples, scissors, Post-its, folders, and Scotch Tape. Even paper towels and toilet paper. Many schools list other basic supplies such as paper, binders and notebooks.
Parents are familiar with the problem.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t have to have these lists, because the teachers and the schools would have what they need,” said Clare Hanusz, the mother of two children at public schools.
Hanusz, whose daughter attends Niu Valley Middle School, said the school is able to raise $50,000 from parents, businesses and other supporters in the community. And she said it’s not fair that students in poorer communities that can’t raise as much money for their schools go without basics.
“All of those teachers should have the materials that they need. It shouldn’t be reliant on parent fund raising. And your child shouldn’t be at an advantage because they’re in a district where there’s more money,” Hanusz said.
Matayoshi said the cost for just about everything has gone up, “and our budget hasn’t.”
For decades, teachers have spent hundreds and even thousands of their own money each year for classroom supplies.
“It’s always a problem. Teachers every year don’t have enough money for the basics,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the union that represents public school teachers.
Rosenlee said the state should follow the lead of Florida, which issues each teacher a $500 debit card annually to buy classroom supplies and requires receipts to verify what they’ve purchased.
Rosenlee said that would cost the DOE about $6 million more a year, a funding request that would have to compete with other basics at public schools such as paying for school lunches, utilities and school bus service.