Write to the Board of Education to urge continued funding for teacher shortage differentials

HIDOE wants to defer differentials next school year, even though they helped fill vacancies

In spite of new data showing they were effective, a proposal before the Hawaii State Board of Education (BOE) aims to defer millions of dollars in shortage differentials that the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) began in January for special education classroom teachers, Hawaiian language immersion educators, and educators at hard-to-staff schools.

According to the agenda for the board’s next general meeting, scheduled for Thursday, July 23, at 1:30 p.m., “the Department is requesting a temporary discontinuance” of these differentials, with the reasoning that “these past few months have been extraordinarily challenging due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The COVID-19 pandemic has severely curtailed economic activity in the state and has negatively impacted the state’s overall revenue and budget.”

If this proposal is approved, nearly 4,000 educators will see a drop in pay.

Going back on a promise

On Dec. 5, Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and board members agreed action needed to be taken to ease Hawaii’s critical teacher shortage. The BOE approved paying up to $10,000 a year in shortage differentials to thousands of educators in three areas with the worst shortages.

Also during the meeting, Kishimoto and Board of Education Chair Catherine Payne, a retired principal and longtime educator, pledged to fund the differentials from existing HIDOE money if state lawmakers did not fund it for next school year.

This new proposal breaks that pledge. The HIDOE said the Legislature did not approve funding for the differentials as requested. It is now opting to suspend this compensation instead of looking at other areas of its operating budget, as originally promised.

New figures prove differentials worked

According to the department’s data, the number of teachers transferring into special education positions for the upcoming 2020–21 school year actually increased by 29 percent over the previous school year, while the number of teachers who left SpEd positions decreased by 57 percent.

Nearly twice as many educators transferred into hard-to-staff schools for next school year compared to last, while the differentials led to a 41 percent decrease in those leaving hard-to-staff locations.

The department could not provide comparison data for Hawaiian language immersion positions.

“The differentials have already made a huge difference in recruiting and retaining teachers in these shortage areas,” said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee. “Why would you cut a program that works? It defies logic.”

Email your testimony to the BOE by Wednesday

The HSTA is calling on its members and supporters to email the BOE by noon on Wednesday, July 22, to urge board members to reject the proposal.

If you are currently receiving a differential, please explain how it has helped you remain in your position, and how its retraction will negatively impact you and your students. If you are a colleague or parent, please explain how a lack of qualified teachers has hurt your school and your keiki.

Email your testimony to testimony.BOE@boe.hawaii.gov, with the word “Testimony” in the subject line. At the top of the email, explain that you are testifying on Action Item G: Board Action on temporary discontinuance of extra compensation for classroom teachers in special education, hard-to-staff geographical locations, and Hawaiian language immersion programs for the 2020-2021 school year. Please include your name, and your school or workplace if you’re an educator, or school that your children attend.

Wrong decision will hurt our most vulnerable keiki

The HSTA understands Hawaii is facing an unprecedented financial crisis due to COVID-19. But while a retraction of differentials may help to balance budgets, it will absolutely devastate our dwindling supply of qualified teachers for our most vulnerable students.

“Even now, with the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the reopening of our school campuses, we are seeing even more educators choosing to retire or leave the profession. Slashing educators’ pay will be the last straw for many already hanging by a thread,” Rosenlee said.

If Hawaii’s teacher shortage crisis worsens, we will see a collapse in our public education system. Please write to the BOE and make it clear that we cannot allow this to happen. Our keiki will suffer the most, especially our most vulnerable students who need experienced educators during these difficult times.

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