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Friday, April 05, 2019

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee: The DOE doesn't need an audit, and here's why

'It does not deal with the real question we need to solve: How do we properly fund Hawaii’s schools?'

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee testified against Senate Bill 856 on Friday, March 29:

HSTA strongly opposes SB856 because it does not deal with the real question we need to solve: How do we properly fund Hawaii’s schools?

If you want to look at that problem, first, if you compare us with mainland schools of similar size and student populations, they on average spend $6,000 more per pupil than Hawaii’s public schools do. If you look in Hawaii’s schools—and the only thing we have in comparison in Hawaii schools is our private schools—the major private schools in Hawaii spend about $30,000 per pupil. For our public schools, it’s about $14,000. 

For our public schools, we take all comers. Over half of our students are now Title I in our public schools, 11 percent are special education, 10 percent are ELL. When you look at what a regular education student costs in Hawaii, that cost is about $10,000 to $11,000, so we only spend about a third of the amount as a private school does in Hawaii to educate a child. No one is suggesting that we audit Punahou, or that spending $30,000 for a student at Punahou is wasteful. We only do that for our public school students, and that’s the real problem of this bill. Instead of getting to the real issue of how do we fund our schools, what we do instead is we don’t try to look at the funding gap, and the funding gap is the difference between what we’re spending and what we should be spending.

Right now we’ve created a real problem between the haves and have nots. How do we ensure that every child regardless of where they live, what their ethnicity is, how much money their parents make, that all children have access to opportunity and to a quality education?

The United States is only one of three countries in the world that actually spend more money on rich children than on poor children. So every time we try to close that funding gap, road blocks are thrown in our way. Things such as financial audits. We’ve seen right now across the country teachers, in order to try and make sure we properly close that funding gap, have had to go on strike across the entire country. Just this week, Betsy DeVos said that large class sizes are a good thing. So every single time we try to close this funding gap, road blocks are thrown our way, such as an audit, to make sure we do not properly give all of our children a quality education.

So let’s look at the DOE budget. Is this truly wasteful? The largest part of the DOE budget is EDN 100, school-based budgeting—58 percent of the budget. The vast majority of that is for weighted student formula, directly to the schools, and the vast majority of that is to fund salaries, and not just of teachers, but our EAs, our custodians, our principals. Our educational assistants right now are earning $14 an hour. They’re living in poverty. Our teachers, they’re leaving. In the last six years, we’ve seen teachers leaving by 70 percent, moving to the mainland because they’re paying our teachers better. That has caused a gap of 1,000 positions in our schools that are not filled right now. So when we look at waste, there is not waste in EDN 100. 

Next largest part of the budget: EDN 150, 23 percent of the budget, special education. I’ve had several prominent attorneys tell me in the state that Hawaii is breaking the law when it comes to special education, because right now we have over 500 positions that we cannot fill in special education. If we go back to 2009, when we had a better ratio of SPED teachers to students, it’s actually closer to 700 positions that were not filled. So 81 percent of the budget right there, we do not have that waste.

Twelve percent is for school support. That’s primarily utilities, transportation. That leaves the six percent. That is for EDN 200 and 300. Now I’m going to give a statistic that most people do not believe, and this is what creates a problem which stops a bill like the audit. Hawaii ranks 48th in the nation in state administrative costs. We are actually one of the most efficient school systems in the country, and that’s why we don’t need things like this audit. So instead of spending millions of dollars counting pencils, we could use that money to actually fund things that matter. Before you are things such as making sure SPED teachers don’t have to buy supplies out of their own pockets to make sure that we have differentiated reading, bills to make sure that we have housing vouchers so that we can make sure we can staff hard-to-staff schools.

That is how we should spend our money, instead of funding things such as an audit.

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