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The coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis have greatly impacted our country and our state, and we must do all we can to prevent irreparable harm to Hawaii’s public education and our keiki.

On Thursday, Dec. 3, the Hawaii State Board of Education will hold two meetings and a vote on the proposed Department of Education budget.

HSTA will live stream the BOE’s meetings at 11 a.m. at 1:30 p.m. on Facebook and YouTube.

The proposal includes a 10-percent reduction to the weighted student formula (WSF), which is the primary way our state funds public school operations and positions. The BOE will also consider a 9-percent cut to special education along with many other reductions to public education. In all, the department is proposing $164 million in reductions, and that does not include possible furlough cuts alluded to by the governor that could affect educators’ take-home pay.

“The 10-percent cut to weighted student formula and the proposed 9-percent reduction in special education give the impression that we’re only trimming the fat, downplaying the severe consequences of these two cuts,” HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said during a news conference Wednesday.

To the public, a 10-percent cut to the WSF and a 9-percent cut to special education may not seem like much, but most of this funding pays for personnel costs, including teachers, counselors, and others in our bargaining unit. These two cuts alone could potentially lead to a loss of more than 1,000 regular education and special education positions, resulting in higher class sizes and reduced course offerings. HSTA has already heard from teachers across the state who were notified by their principals that their schools will be losing positions for the 2021–22 school year.

“Other programs such as art, music, Hawaiian studies, Hawaiian language immersion, career and technical education, physical education, all could be reduced or eliminated,” said Rosenlee. “Class sizes could also increase, and we could see programs such as advanced placement, electives, and gifted and talented either be reduced or eliminated.”

In addition to the potential loss of special education teachers, the proposed cuts would lead to the reduction of other important positions, such as autism behavior analysts, and school-based behavioral health services. If individualized education programs (IEPs) are not met, the state will be in legal jeopardy by failing to provide federally mandated special education services to the students who need them most.

These cuts would also affect many other important department personnel, including educational assistants, security guards, and cafeteria workers.

“The Department of Education needs to specifically explain how many positions will be lost in classrooms and on our school campuses,” said Rosenlee. “HSTA does not want these cuts to go into place until our lawmakers and the public know the ramifications of these cuts.”

In written testimony to the BOE, Rosenlee offered alternative solutions that include:

  • $8 million reduction in student transportation costs by moving back school starting times, which research has shown improve students’ health, grades and attendance,
  • $4 million reduction in utility costs by reducing air conditioning during non-student hours, and
  • Reducing standardized testing services and other curriculum-related contracts to outside companies, which represent tens of millions of dollars a year.

HSTA is hoping to work with state lawmakers to look at other revenue measures and avoid cuts to education, Rosenlee said.

The education our keiki receive today shapes their lives and their futures, and we must ensure it is the highest quality that we can provide. Education should not be a first option for state budget cuts. A Honolulu Civil Beat article published Monday said House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, “one of the most powerful members of the Legislature, indicated she is inclined to shield the University of Hawaii and the public education systems from the brunt of those cuts, saying it does not make sense to reduce the ranks of public school teachers or university professors right now.” We thank Rep. Luke and the many legislators and community leaders who are fighting along with us.

While administrators are planning for reduced funding in their budgets, please know these plans are not set in stone. There is still hope that Congress will pass another relief package, which both Republicans and Democrats agree should be used to help schools and teachers. There is also hope that our state leaders will find additional sources of funding if a stimulus package is not passed.

HSTA is committed to protecting our educators, our profession, and our keiki. We know how draining this pandemic has been, and we truly appreciate our members’ hard work and dedication to educate our keiki, no matter how difficult the conditions may be.