HIDOE is using the differentials to recruit, retain teachers

Board of Education leaders voiced strong support Thursday for continuing teacher shortage differentials next school year and the Hawaii State Department of Education is still touting them in recruitment and retention materials even as the department works to find exactly how it will pay for them.

Bruce Voss, who chairs the BOE’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee, said Thursday that the budget passed by lawmakers awaiting the governor’s signature or veto did not fund “the $32.5 million teacher differential that this board approved and made clear to the superintendent that it expects to be part of the department’s ESSR (federal stimulus) funds plans consistent with prior board action.”

The differentials offer annual bonuses to teachers in shortage areas of special education, Hawaiian language immersion and to those who teach in hard-to-staff locations that are often geographically isolated. The payments have quickly and substantially reduced teacher shortages in those fields while increasing applicants to special education teacher scholarship programs at the college level.

The board reaffirmed its support for differentials in February after rejecting State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s effort to end them last summer.

State Rep. Jeanne Kapela, vice chair of the House Education Committee, testified before the BOE’s finance committee Thursday that differentials will help reverse learning loss.

“I represent Hawaii’s 5th House District, which runs from South Kona to Naalehu on Hawaii Island. My district is incredibly rural and highly impoverished. It’s one of the areas that’s hardest hit by the teacher shortage crisis,” Kapela said.

“These differentials are critical to maintaining quality educators in my community’s schools. Accordingly, I am asking you today to consider using some of the funds that we provided to deal with learning loss to sustain these differential pay raises. Nothing could be more critical to preventing learning loss than ensuring that our most vulnerable children are taught by highly qualified teachers,” Kapela added.

BOE Chair Catherine Payne, a member of the board’s money committee, said, “We heard in testimony that perhaps learning loss would be correlated with having qualified teachers in areas where children are in great need. And that’s where the differentials are being applied.”

“Given the legislative identification of how the money needs to be spent, would that possibly be considered in that category?” Payne asked Brian Hallet, the HIDOE’s CFO and assistant superintendent for fiscal services.

“I wouldn’t expect that we would be coding those or characterizing those as learning loss programs only in that I think those programs will be looking for evidence-based learning loss programs that are student-focused. That might be a step or two removed from being able to make that connection,” Hallet said.

Responding to Hallet, Payne said, “We could certainly make a case on research-based evidence that children having a qualified and capable teacher in the classroom is probably the most important factor in addressing learning for the child, much more so than particular programs that may have also shown some improvement.”

Kishimoto, the superintendent, told the BOE, “We are reiterating in our recruitment and retention documentation to our teachers and our materials, that that differential is in place via board action.”

Voss asked Hallet where the department will get the $32.5 million to fund differentials starting July 1, since lawmakers did not allocate specific funding for them.

“To be quite honest, I do not have an answer at this time,” Hallet said.

Finding that funding would require cuts elsewhere in the budget, Hallet added, “which is explicitly what the federal legislation was telling us not to do, so we are in a bit of a predicament.”

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee thanked the board and said he appreciated its continued support for funding the shortage differentials.

At a briefing before the House and Senate education committees, Kishimoto confirmed the differentials will continue.

Rep. Kapela asked, “Has the DOE thought about or is willing to use a portion of learning loss funding to continue teacher shortage differentials? Because I know that that was something that was really important, and we talk a lot on this conversation about the need for highly qualified teachers, and the differential shortages are one of the biggest ways that we’ve been able to keep these highly qualified teachers in very rural areas, like the one that I live in.”

Kishimoto responded, “the Board (of Education) did vote back in February to continue those differentials for next year, and so teachers who were receiving those differentials and teachers who are moving new into those shortage areas, hard-to-fill areas, that letter on differentials, they already knew in February that that’s going to continue based on board action, and then there’s a letter we’re sending out to teachers, it may have gone out this week already, that gives them all of the information to confirm yes, that’s still in place.”

Teacher stabilization payments offered in at least 8 other states

Hallet, HIDOE’s CFO, raised questions about the $2,200 stabilization payments to all public school teachers approved by lawmakers. Gov. David Ige, who has until mid-July to sign or veto the proposal, has criticized the payments.

Hallet said, “There is some concern with alignment with that in the collective bargaining requirements.” claiming that the teacher stabilization payments require collective bargaining.

Rosenlee responded by saying, “HSTA disagrees with the presentation from the DOE that teacher bonuses are prohibited and that teacher bonuses require collective bargaining.”

The federal pandemic relief funds for education specifically allow money to be used for employing existing or hiring new school staff, Rosenlee added.

“Many other states, including Vermont, Michigan, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Oregon, are using this funding for bonuses for teachers,” Rosenlee said.

“In Hawaii, there is clear precedent of increasing payments to teachers outside of the collective bargaining process, including shortage differentials,” Rosenlee said.

In addition, the Legislature has approved $5,000 bonuses for teachers with national board certification (NBCTs) and another $5,000 for those NBCTs who work in hard-to-staff locations, he said.

Kishimoto, the schools superintendent, said the U.S. Department of Education requires the state to submit its application to use federal pandemic school funds by June 7. The HIDOE has requested an extension until July 1 to bring a draft plan to the BOE for approval at its next meeting on June 17, Kishimoto said, to complete a public engagement process and meet the July 1 deadline.

The federal funds require the state to “assure that we have stakeholder input,” Kishimoto said.

The HIDOE plans to treat the Legislature’s budget bills “as critical stakeholder input, along with board input, employees, partners, students and community and parents,” Kishimoto added.

Even with the passage of state legislative bills and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money, the HIDOE still faces at least a $129 million projected shortfall for the next two fiscal years, Hallet told the board.

Despite an infusion of federal funds, Hallet said, “the (education) department failed to secure or was unable to secure predictable, reliable funding for schools over the next two years.”

Kapela, Kona lawmaker and House Education Committee vice chair, said, “I know that more must be done in order to strengthen the DOE’s budget, which continues to bear a disproportionate amount of our state’s financial burdens. When the federal relief funds expire, the department’s budget will need to be repaired. I am steadfastly committed to working with each and every one of you to not only restore the DOE’s base budget but to increase funding for our public school system.”

Rosenlee, HSTA’s president, said, “HSTA recognizes the DOE’s need to restore its base budget for next year, and will advocate with the DOE during the legislative session to restore the base budget. As the economy improves, there is a great opportunity to use the stimulus funds to create systemic changes including AC for our schools.”

State lawmakers allocated “potentially up to $70 million for air conditioning, to air-condition the remainder of Hawaii’s hot classrooms,” Rosenlee told the BOE.

“This is a unique opportunity to finally make sure that we air-condition our classrooms,” Rosenlee added.