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Economic challenges to education in Hawaii

By Staff | Sep 17, 2009


What everyone needs to keep in mind is that we are all in this together. The state budget crunch is not just the problem of the governor, State Legislature or the state employees. It is everyone’s problem. 

The downturn in the economy, foreclosure rates, significant loss of jobs, impact of rising oil prices, decline in tourism statewide, decline in the value of the U.S. dollar, drop in the stock market and decline in the value of many 401K plans have created an unprecedented economic condition unparalleled in U.S. history. No one is immune to the impact of these unfortunate circumstances.

The ongoing discussion of cuts in state spending has huge implications for the Department of Education (DOE). As state employees are furloughed or laid off, programs are eliminated and services cut in an attempt to balance the state budget, the bottom line is that the children of Hawaii will suffer as those decisions impact the DOE. A school system addressing so many different challenges can ill afford to have staffing or program cuts that ultimately effect educational offerings, potentially increase class size and limit the ability of even the most dedicated educators to meet the needs of all children. Recent gains on the Hawaii State Assessment in math and reading for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may well be lost due to the choices made during the course of the state’s budget decisions.  

In a commentary in The Honolulu Advertiser on July 5, 2009, Robert W. Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS), put it this way:  “While state policy makers endeavor to rewrite budgets for the upcoming school year with fewer dollars, let’s remember the urgent needs of our students who deserve an education that will prepare them for success in college, career and citizenship.”   

While many educators nationwide have deep concerns about No Child Left Behind (that is the subject for another article), it is the current educational model under which our public schools must operate. That being the case, this is not the time to dramatically cut funding to schools that are struggling.  Hawaii’s public schools have made gains in the vast majority of the 37 areas assessed; however, under the NCLB “all or nothing” criteria, many of those same schools are being forced to undertake dramatic restructuring. That restructuring mandate forces them to take a series of actions that, in most cases, necessitate additional funding — at a time when funding to education is being cut. 

Our community needs to recognize that any cuts to our public school budgets will not help serve our kids. Budget cuts will not serve our Maui community, because if we do not have a well-educated population, prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century, all of us will suffer. We need to be proactive in supporting our schools. Our children’s and our community’s future depends upon it.