Proposal requires the state to use federal stimulus money to keep educators on the payroll

Posted: February 12, 2021

State Senate and House leaders have introduced bills that direct the Hawaii State Department of Education to use millions in federal stimulus funding to preserve educators’ jobs, contrary to a HIDOE plan to use nearly one-third of stimulus funds bound for the education department to hire outside tutors.

At a news conference Friday, State House Education Chair Justin Woodson said, “We want to protect teachers’ employment. Because if we protect teachers’ employment, we are protecting our keiki’s future.”

“Fundamentally, we are just not in agreement with how the federal funds are planned to be spent,” by the department Woodson said, referring to the HIDOE’s plans to spend $48.5 million of the stimulus money hiring outside tutors to work with students whose school performance has suffered during the pandemic. The department proposes to use another $9.6 million in federal COVID-19 school aid for summer school.

“It does not make any sense,” Woodson added, since more than 1,000 HIDOE employees, including 700 teachers, could be laid off next school year because of budget cuts.

State Senate Education Chair Michelle Kidani told reporters, “They will have to keep the same level of funding that they now had, and that’s basically part of the federal requirement.”

She referred to the federal stimulus money approved by Congress at the end of last year. Federal lawmakers required school districts using those funds to agree not to cut education budgets lower than they were in the three fiscal years leading up to the pandemic.

“There is a maintenance of effort provision,” in the federal aid package, Woodson said, “The bill says that you need to prioritize educators and make sure that you are spending any money from the federal government first before you go on and have other considerations.”

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee, who also spoke at Friday’s virtual news conference, said even with the $123 million that Gov. David Ige has restored in school budget cuts for next school year, more than 1,000 school employees could be let go because $141 million worth of cuts remain.

Besides the potential of more than 1,000 school employees facing the possibility of layoffs, the state is proposing pay cuts of more than nine percent for all HIDOE employees.

“This will have a devastating impact on our schools and to our keiki. We know from what is projected, this could mean higher class sizes, a lot of programs being cut,” Rosenlee said. “We already have a shortage of 1,000 teachers. If we do this on top of that, I deeply fear what could be the long-term impact for our schools and to our keiki.

“It makes no sense to fire teachers and hire tutors. The money should be appropriated to make sure we can keep as many of our teachers as possible,” said Rosenlee.

“I just want to say thank you to all the senators, especially Senator Kidani, Senator (Donovan) Dela Cruz, in the House, Representative (Sylvia) Luke, Representative Woodson who have worked so hard on this one to make sure that we support our keiki and support education in Hawaii,” Rosenlee added.

These bills will go through the education and money committees in both the state House and Senate.

Kidani told reporters Senate Ways and Means Chair Chair Donovan Dela Cruz agrees that “we need to make sure our students get back on track and we can’t do that if we don’t retain our teachers. That’s really what’s the driving force behind this is to get our students back on track.”

“We have a significant hole in our budget as it relates to the Department of Education and we have to do everything that we can to fill that hole. Because ultimately, it comes down to the kids,” Woodson said.