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Proposed state education budget cuts concern HSTA

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is taking aim at budget reductions proposed by the state Department of Education the union says will undoubtedly affect Hawaii’s students.

The state Board of Education is set to take action today on recommendations from the Finance and Infrastructure Committee regarding the DOE’s operating budget for the 2021-23 biennium.

Gov. David Ige imposed measures to control state expenditures, including restrictions in the current fiscal year budget because of the revenue losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, state Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a memo to committee Chairman Kenneth Uemura.

What was initially expected to be a one-time $100.2 million reduction of general operating funds will be carried forward into the upcoming fiscal biennium, the memo states. The DOE also will implement an additional 10% reduction, for a total general fund reduction of approximately 15% in the coming years.

Kishimoto said in the memo that the DOE’s proposed operating budget includes adjustments for collective bargaining amounts, nonrecurring funding and recommendations for a 10% general fund reduction amounting to about $164.3 million.

As the largest state agency, the DOE represents 21% of the state’s general fund budget, according to the memo.

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said during a news conference Wednesday that two of the DOE’s largest proposed reductions include a 10% cut to the weighted student formula, which provides schools an annual dollar amount for each student to help cover operating costs, and a 9% reduction to special education services.

Those proposed cuts “gives the impression that we’re only trimming fat, downplaying the severe consequences of these two cuts,” he said. “Together, these two budget cuts could mean 1,000 special education and regular education teaching positions could be lost. This would impact our keiki.”

Rosenlee also contends that other programs — like art, music, Hawaiian studies, Hawaiian language immersion and others — could be reduced or eliminated, class sizes could increase, and advanced placement and gifted and talented programs could also be at risk.

In addition to losing special education teachers, Rosenlee said other specialist positions also are on the chopping block.

“This means that special education services may not be met,” he continued. “This puts our state and our education system in jeopardy of violating federal law.”

Rosenlee said the DOE needs to better explain how many positions would be lost in classrooms and on school campuses.

“The public and our lawmakers deserve to know the effects of these cuts they are proposing,” he said. “Our biggest hope is that Congress will pass a federal stimulus package that will include funding for education. But if they do not, HSTA does not want these cuts to go into place until our lawmakers and the public know the ramification of these cuts.”

“As a state agency, the DOE was tasked with identifying budget reductions of at least 10% for the next two years,” Kishimoto said in an emailed statement to the Tribune-Herald. “That’s on top of an already $100.2 million reduction to the base budget sustained this school year, for a total budget reduction of more than $264 million in each school year beginning July 1.

“The HIDOE is a best-practice state, with the lowest spending nationally for general administration,” she continued. “Therefore, with 94% of the department’s funds spent directly by or for activities at the school level, these cuts will be felt by students. We will continue to reiterate that an investment in students is an investment in Hawaii’s future.”

The HSTA, however, does support some proposed budget cuts, including using fewer bus drivers, reducing the millions spent each year on standardized testing, and being mindful of electricity use on campuses.

HSTA also has suggested the state look at how to use underutilized DOE property to raise revenue, Rosenlee said.

“And we are willing, as the Hawaii State Teachers Association, to work with legislators to look at additional revenue potentially that the state could use in order to avoid these cuts,” he said. “But our biggest hope right now is that Congress does pass a stimulus package.”

The BOE’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee is set to meet at 11 a.m. today, and the BOE will follow with a special meeting at 1:30 p.m.

More information on how to connect with the virtual meetings can be found online at boe.hawaii.gov.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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