Parent and children’s groups back constitutional amendment

Allies of education fight back against misleading criticism of proposal

A coalition of parents, children’s and community groups spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment Thursday, as some county government and business leaders made misleading complaints about the proposal.

“Every child in Hawaii deserves access to a quality education,” said Deborah Bond-Upson, a founding board member of Parents for Public Schools Hawaii. “We know we are going to need a grassroots movement to fight against this super PAC that has come up with this cynical approach to drive fear into parents and business leaders that is unwarranted.”

“We believe if we want to be business friendly, we have to have appropriate taxes. Our state should not be a haven for certain investors and developers that then drives the cost of housing up for everyone else,” Bond-Upson added.

Bond-Upson chairs the Fund Our Hawaii Schools Coalition, a group of six community groups backing the amendment.

The constitutional amendment is not a tax on everyone, as opponents to the proposal are falsely claiming in TV ads and media statements. It is intended for wealthy people who own a second home valued at $1 million and higher.

“It’s sad that the only tactic that they have is fear, the fear that we’re going to go after renters, apartment owners, senior citizens, farmers, commercial businesses. This is a specific taxation that we’re trying to do in order to fund our schools,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “Our opponents offer no way of increasing funding for our schools. Not once have they offered an answer about how they are going to improve our schools.” 

Rosenlee and children’s advocates spoke at a midday news conference in front of Central Middle School in downtown Honolulu, an aging school that represents the many sub-standard school facilities across the state. The Department of Education’s school buildings are, on average, 65 years old.

Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, said, “If you go and visit schools, we know our infrastructure is way out of date. Some places in our charter schools, we have kids learning under tarps. We think that is unacceptable and unconscionable. Our kids deserve good quality schools.”

“Hawaii lags behind the rest of the country in public preschool and we’ve been fighting for 20 years to expand access to preschool. We know early learning is the key to children’s success later in life, but we need the money to pay for it,” Zysman added.

Rosenlee said: “Unfortunately, we put them (students) into environments that are not conducive to learning. The main reason is that we do not fund our schools well. We rank 45th in the nation in per-pupil expenditure, adjusted for cost of living.”

“Just this past week, Hawaii was ranked as the worst place in the country for teachers. And since 2010, we have seen the amount of teachers leaving Hawaii increase by 84 percent,” Rosenlee added. “And because of that, we have about 1,000 classrooms that do not have a qualified teacher. About one third of our students – or 60,000 students -- go to school and do not have a qualified teacher.” 

“If this constitutional amendment does not pass,” Rosenlee said, “then there is 100 percent guarantee that we will not improve funding for our schools.”

Watch the full news release previously recorded on Facebook Live.

The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Polling places across the state will open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day.

To register to vote, find your polling place and other election information, go to http://elections.hawaii.gov/.

About the Hawaii State Teachers Association: The Hawaii State Teachers Association is the exclusive representative of more than 13,700 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.

About the Fund Our Hawaii Schools Coalition: Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii founded an alliance of organizations and individuals to support the constitutional amendment to fund our schools. Organizations joining the coalition to date include Imua Alliance, Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Social Justice Council of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, Democratic Party of Hawaii Education Caucus, Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii and Hawaii Children’s Action Network.

About Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii: Founded in 2009 when Hawaii public schools were closed for 17 “Furlough Fridays,” it is the Hawaii Chapter of Parents for Public Schools. Inc. With more than 1,000 members from across the state, PPS-HI provides policy advocacy and supports parent engagement.

About Hawaii Children’s Action Network: Hawaii Children's Action Network (HCAN) is a movement supporting keiki and strengthening their families. We advocate for laws and policies that keep our children safe, healthy and ready to learn so they thrive.

Author: Keoki Kerr