Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee is submitting the following testimony to the Hawaii State Board of Education.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association strongly urges the Hawaii State Board of Education to delay approving the Hawaii State Department of Education’s stimulus funds plan. If passed, the HIDOE plan will violate recently passed federal law, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133), hurt relations with the state Legislature, and cause long-term, lasting damage to Hawaii’s keiki and their teachers.

The HIDOE’s budget, under the governor’s proposed budget to the Legislature, is $264 million less from the FY20 base. The HIDOE’s stimulus funding proposal only uses $54 million out of the $183.5 million stimulus funding to mitigate the devastating impact these cuts will have on our schools. The academic and financial plans submitted by principals for next school year will lead to 1,300 school employees losing their jobs, including nearly 800 teachers. The submitted academic and financial plans only show a partial picture of the HIDOE’s plan, because not restoring cuts to the base budget will require an additional $50 million in cuts to continue next year, which could lead to more than 1,700 positions being lost, including more than 1,000 teachers.

Furthermore, the governor’s proposed HIDOE budget and the HIDOE’s proposed use of the stimulus funds violate H.R. 133, the most recent federal stimulus law.

H.R. 133 states:


SEC. 317. (a) At the time of award of funds to carry out sections 312 or 313 of this title, a State shall provide assurances that such State will maintain support for elementary and secondary education, and for higher education (which shall include State funding to institutions of higher education and state needs-based financial aid, and shall not include support for capital projects or for research and development or tuition and fees paid by students) in fiscal year 2022 at least at the proportional levels of such State’s support for elementary and secondary education and for higher education relative to such State’s overall spending, averaged over fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Among all departments in the state, the governor’s proposed cuts are the highest for the HIDOE. The FY22 budget is more than a 2% decrease from the average of FY17, FY18, and FY19 budgets. This 2% decrease next fiscal year is, by HSTA’s preliminary estimate, a reduction of nearly $170 million from its base budget. The governor’s current proposal violates the stimulus bill by supplanting the funding designated for education to balance the state’s budget, which Congress designed Section 317 to avoid.

Furthermore, H.R. 133 also states:


SEC. 315. A local educational agency, State, institution of higher education, or other entity that receives funds provided under the heading ‘‘Education Stabilization Fund’’, shall, to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.

The HIDOE’s proposed budget for stimulus funds calls for $63 million to fund private tutors and summer school while asking principals to fire even more employees. This violates Section 315 of H.R. 133. A clear reading of the bill shows that the HIDOE is not meeting the standard of trying “to the greatest extent practicable” to pay its employees and contractors during this period of disruption. To clarify whether the intent of the bill protects current school positions, we can look at an executive order issued by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.

Stephen Sedor, an education and labor law attorney with the firm Pullman & Comley, explains in the online article, Executive Order 7R: Its Impact and Obligations on Connecticut School Districts:

Just as the CARES Act requires school districts to continue to employ individuals to the “reasonable extent practicable,” so does Executive Order 7R. In fact, the Order goes so far as to say that school districts should restore the employment of those who have already been laid off. The specific language states, in relevant part, that school districts:

“[s]hall continue to employ or restore to employment if already laid off, and pay school staff who are directly employed by the local or regional board of education, including but not limited to teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff, cafeteria staff, clerical staff and custodial workers, to the greatest extent practicable.”

The intent behind the Order is clear; school districts should seek to maintain their employees as best they can.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction also has given similar directions to its local educational agencies (LEAs), stating the following when it comes to the maintenance of pay:

As part of the application process for CARES Act grants, the local educational agency’s (LEA’s) Authorizer, will need to attest to one of the following:

  • The LEA has been paying, and will continue to pay, employees and contractors in the same manner as before any disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus.
  • The LEA has discontinued payments to any employee or contractor during disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus, but will resume these payments upon receipt of CARES Act funds.
  • The LEA will continue to pay employees and contractors to the greatest extent practicable. The LEA will be required to provide a reasonable explanation as to why the LEA is unable to pay its employees and contractors in the same manner as before any disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus, and how payments to employees and contractors will be made to the greatest extent practicable.

These provisions suggest that the state of Hawaii can neither reduce education positions nor furlough employees. There is no doubt the federal legislation requires the use of stimulus funds, additional funding from the governor, and potential revenue increases from the Legislature to avoid school cuts and furloughs.

The Legislature’s burden of finding additional revenue was evident at a joint Senate hearing with the committees on Ways and Means and Education last week. Senators were visibly upset and repeatedly asked about the amount of funding needed to balance the HIDOE budget to avoid job losses. State Sen. Michelle Kidani stated, “We’re taking away from students and schools that need this funding now.”

Suppose the BOE approves this request for additional spending to use 33% of the recent stimulus funds on private tutors and summer school before dealing with the $264 million budget loss. Such a move will create an additional burden for state lawmakers to find more revenue.

In HSTA’s opinion, this action will only infuriate lawmakers, putting at risk the Legislature’s approval of the HIDOE’s funding requests and assuring layoffs and furloughs. If the HIDOE applies most of the stimulus funding to the deficit and then requests additional legislative funding, an important message will be sent from the HIDOE and BOE that they are working with the Legislature to mitigate loss.

In these stimulus budget requests, the superintendent and the HIDOE clarify that their highest priority is to deal with learning loss created by this pandemic and the need to go to distance learning. HSTA fully agrees that there has been learning loss because of the pandemic, but we don’t understand how firing teachers and hiring private tutors will improve learning. The loss of teacher positions will lead to higher class sizes and the reduction of many programs. Special education losses will mean fewer services and potentially lead to federal free appropriate public education (FAPE) violations for students with special needs.

Even if tutors bring short-term help, the HIDOE’s budget request for these services is not long term. Losing qualified teachers and hundreds of other HIDOE positions will harm our public schools in the long term. Hawaii has seen how hard it is to recruit and retain qualified teachers, a challenge made worse by furloughs and stagnant pay during the last recession over a decade ago. The firing of more than 1,000 teachers and other school employees will devastate Hawaii’s education system and have consequences for years or decades to come.

Before the BOE approves the HIDOE’s request, these important questions must be answered:

  • How will the federal stimulus bill’s requirements reshape the governor’s education budget?
  • How will the Council on Revenues projections for FY20–21 and FY21–22 of an additional $471.65 million in revenues for the current and next fiscal year impact the governor’s budget?
  • How has the $10 million of Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding given to the governor to spend on education been spent?
  • How will the governor spend the $4.4 million in additional GEER funding?
  • How much money has the department saved this year due to distance learning? For example, savings from reduced busing, utilities, personnel, travel, etc.?

In the next few days, we will see what changes Gov. Ige has made to his budget. President-elect Biden has also proposed an additional $130 billion for K-12 public schools and $350 billion for states and local governments. We should wait to see how many of these proposals Congress approves and wait to answer the questions listed above before the BOE decides how to use stimulus funding in Hawaii. HSTA sees no reason why the BOE has to approve this budget now before these critical questions can be answered.

If the BOE feels the urgency to do something now, then the money should be moved to alleviate deficits at the school level to preserve school positions and avoid devastating cuts. Those prudent moves would avoid violating H.R. 133 and protect our keiki for years and decades to follow.