2016 Omnibus Bill: The Schools Our Keiki Deserve


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HSTA Introduces Sweeping Education Omnibus Bill for 2016 Legislative Session

Proposes Excise Tax Increase to Fund Education Improvements

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) today announced the introduction of an ambitious 10-part education omnibus bill designed to dramatically improve Hawai‘i’s school system. The bill will be introduced during the upcoming 2016 legislative session.

Corey Rosenlee HSTA President July 2015

“It’s time to make education a priority in Hawai‘i,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “We all recognize the need for drastic change in Hawai‘i’s educational system. For too long our community has had to suffer with crowded, 90-degree classrooms with leaky roofs, inadequate school supplies, buildings in disrepair, and underpaid and overworked teachers.”

“And if we, as a community, are serious about fixing our schools, then we need to enact significant measures that focus on the needs of our students, support our teachers in meaningful ways, remove the harm caused by high-stakes testing, and provide the level of funding that our children deserve. After gathering extensive input and recommendations from teachers, parents, and others involved in education, we have developed an education omnibus bill that can make a real difference in our schools and for our students,” added Rosenlee.

To fund the improvements to Hawai‘i’s educational system, the HSTA is proposing a one percent increase in the State General Excise Tax (GET). Because of the regressive nature of the GET, HSTA is also proposing an increase in the food/excise tax credit and rental excise tax credit so that the GET increase will be minimized for lower income families. To pay for anti-regressive nature of the bill HSTA is proposing that ACT 60, an income tax on the wealthy, which expired last year be reenacted.

“Every year, we say education is a priority, and yet we continue to do nothing about it. Meanwhile, Hawaii’s children are falling behind, as our schools are struggling to prepare students for twenty-first century jobs. We need to reinvest in our public schools to ensure that our children have the skills they need to compete in the worldwide economy. It is an investment in our future and the responsible thing to do,” said Rosenlee.

The omnibus bill focuses on 10 key principles:

1. Educate the Whole Child:

All children should have opportunities for a well-rounded education rich in art, music, drama, PE and Hawaiian Studies. Science and social studies should stand on equal terms with the other core subjects of language arts and math. The bill proposes allocating instructional time and financial resources to teaching visual arts, music, theatre, dance, Hawaiian studies, Native Hawaiian culture and native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.

2. Support All Students:

Our special education and bilingual students need our support. Their teachers should have a limited case load so that they can give our students their full support. The bill proposes additional preparation time and funding for special education teachers and instructional materials.

3. Recognize that Class Size Matters:

Students are at the center of everything we do. Reduce class size so students can get individualized attention. The bill proposes establishing reasonable maximum class sizes for different levels rather than just recommending a ratio.

4. Create a Career Pathway: 

  We need to provide a robust vocational education path to rewarding careers, along with a college path. Students are interested in multiple vocations and not all careers require a college degree. Students should be able to pursue a college and a vocational path at the same time, so that when they leave high school, they can be career and college ready. The bill proposes that all public high schools provide vocational, technical and career pathway programs.

5. Provide Quality School Facilities:

  Students should have a healthy and safe learning environment; No more classrooms with 90+ degree temperatures, collapsing auditoriums, and leaky roofs. If we honor children, we need to express this by investing in the spaces and places where learning occurs. The bill proposes funding for air conditioning and other capital improvement projects.

6. Properly Fund our Rural and Small Schools: 

We need to commit to the success of all our keiki by ensuring that our rural and small schools are funded equitably. Under the current Weighted Student Formula they are unable to fund the necessities such as minimum staffing, classroom supplies, and basic curriculum. The bill proposes adjustments to the Weighted Student Formula to ensure that proper funding levels are provided to every school.

7. Attract and Retain the Best and Brightest to Hawaii’s Public Education System: 

  Attract and retain high quality teachers. Teaching should be a highly desirable profession, and teachers in Hawaii should be able to earn salaries comparable to teachers in districts with a similar high cost of living.

8. End High Stakes Testing:

  We are over-testing our keiki. High stakes tests should not be used to punish schools, teachers, or students. The bill proposes that authentic assessments should be used instead that will provide teachers with formative information to use in the classroom to meet the needs of their students. Parents should have the unrestricted right to excuse their children from high stakes tests.

9. Public Preschools:

  We need to ensure that all children get off to a good start. The bill proposes providing funding so that children of all socio-economic backgrounds can have access to preschool.

10. Give Teachers the Supplies They Need:

  We need to make sure our classrooms have the resources that teachers and students need. Our teachers should not have to spend their own money to provide the basics supplies for our schools. The bill proposes providing teachers with the funds necessary to buy supplies for their classrooms.

To raise awareness of the omnibus bill, HSTA will be holding a rally at the State Capitol on February 5, 2016 from 3:30 - 6:00 p.m. and is inviting teachers, students and parents to participate in support of improving education in Hawai‘i.

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About the Hawaii State Teachers Association: The Hawaii State Teachers Association is the exclusive representative of more than 13,500 public school teachers statewide. As the state affiliate of the 3.2-million-member National Education Association, HSTA represents and supports teachers in collective bargaining, as well as with legislative and professional development issues.

Read A Penny for Education - GET FAQs » (pdf)

Download copy of the 10 points » (pdf)

Read HSTA’s 2016 Legislative Priorities » (pdf)


Mitzie Higa
Teacher Lobbyist

Kendra Ito-Mizota
Government Relations Specialist
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Corey Rosenlee

Wilbert Holck
Executive Director

HSTA:  United in the pursuit of excellence for Hawaii’s public schools.

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HSTA urges tax increase to help fund education

By Nanea Kalani
December 9, 2015

The union representing Hawaii’s public school teachers is lobbying for a tax hike to establish a dedicated funding stream for a host of education proposals, including higher teacher pay, air-conditioned classrooms and more public preschools.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said the union is proposing an increase of 1 percentage point — to 5 percent from 4 percent — to the general excise tax, which is assessed on all business receipts in the state.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association estimates a 1-percentage-point increase in the state’s GET could generate an extra $750 million a year for public schools. The GET, which is assessed on all business receipts and is the state’s largest source of revenue, has not been raised statewide since 1965. A half-percent surcharge on Oahu took effect in 2007 for Honolulu’s rail project.

HSTA estimates the increase would generate an estimated $750 million annually, which the union wants to see support a 10-point omnibus education bill that will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session. The union said a public opinion research poll it sponsored shows widespread support for a tax increase to support the individual parts of the plan.

“We always talk in Hawaii about needing to improve education, and we don’t do anything about it,” Rosenlee said in an interview at HSTA’s Honolulu offices. “It’s time we say education must be a priority. So what HSTA is doing is we are providing a solution. We’re taking the best research from across the world and across the country and, after talking to our teachers, saying, ‘Listen, these are the things we know are good for children. These are good for education. Are we willing to invest in our children?’”

Hawaii is the 10th-largest school district in the nation, educating more than 180,400 students. Although the state Department of Education has the largest operating budget among state departments, with more than $1.5 billion allocated from the state’s general fund for the current fiscal year, its budget has remained relatively flat since 2008.

The proposed legislation is still in draft form, but HSTA said strategies in it to strengthen public education will include calling for more competitive salaries for teachers, capping class sizes, ending high-stakes testing, expanding public preschool, improving facilities, increasing time spent teaching the arts and increasing supports for special-education teachers.

“These are basic things, things people in Hawaii have been saying we need for a very long time,” Rosenlee said.

Regarding teacher pay, he said the union is seeking salaries comparable to mainland districts with similar cost of living for its 13,500 members.

“We’re hoping to create a system where we have enough funds to actually increase teacher pay, and then we can negotiate for that contract,” he said.

While Hawaii’s starting pay for teachers — $44,538 for a newly hired licensed teacher with a bachelor’s degree — appears competitive on paper, the state consistently ranks at or near the bottom of national salary reports when cost of living is factored in.

“We have a huge crisis in Hawaii when it comes to teacher pay. It’s come to a point now where we do not have enough teachers to fill our classrooms,” Rosenlee said. “We have vacancies that can only be filled with (substitute teachers), and this is not good for our students. Almost 50 percent of all new hires are emergency hires.”

He said research studies show the importance of having high-quality teachers in the classroom.

“A good teacher makes a big difference,” he said. “And we have a lot of great teachers in our system, and you have to think, What would happen if they didn’t have to work a second job? What would happen if they had enough supplies, if they had smaller class sizes, if they were in an air-conditioned room, if they didn’t have to worry about the roof dripping?”

The bill also calls for a loan forgiveness program for college students pursuing teaching degrees.

“For retention, especially in high-needs areas, we’re looking at student loan forgiveness to encourage students to go into those high-needs areas such as special education, vocational education, math and science,” he said.

Rosenlee, who was elected president over the summer, acknowledges a tax increase will be a tough sell. The GET has not been raised statewide since 1965, and, given its broad application and regressive nature, proposed increases elicit public outcry. (A temporary half-percent surcharge for Honolulu’s rail system went into effect in 2007 for Oahu only.)

The GET is Hawaii’s largest source of revenue and accounts for more than 40 percent of the state’s total tax collections. Hawaii collected $3.05 billion in GET revenues statewide for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The union’s opinion poll shows residents agree funding for public education should be increased but are split on a GET increase for education in general. Support increased when residents were asked about specific proposals in the bill.

HSTA said Senate Education Chairwoman Michelle Kidani (D, Mililani-Wai­kele-Kunia) has agreed to introduce the bill. Both Kidani and House Education Chairman Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Waipio-Pearl Harbor) were out of town and unavailable for comment.

State Rep. Takashi Ohno, a former elementary teacher and vice chairman of the House Education Committee, said lawmakers have differing opinions about raising the GET, as evidenced by the controversy over extending Oahu’s surcharge for rail.

“It’s not straightforward. It’s very fluid decision-making, especially with the GET because we’re talking about an issue that every constituent of ours is affected by,” said Ohno (D, Nuuanu-Li­liha-Alewa Heights). “I don’t think it’s dead on arrival,” he said of HSTA’s proposal, adding, “I don’t doubt that all members here want to see a successful school system. The question is how to get there. And if funding is one of the issues, I think all the options should be on the table.”