Archive for February 2012

5 ways to Read Across America

February 28, 2012

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child,” as Dr. Seuss said.

The National Education Association (NEA) celebrates Read Across America Day each year on or near March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, to commemorate reading, learning and community. This year, the theme is “green” and showcases the Lorax books and protecting the environment.

Here are 5 things you can do to celebrate Read Across America Day:

1. Pledge to read. Join others at Read Across America who pledged to build a nation of readers, watch videos, and share your celebration ideas and photos.

2. Read to a child. Read with a child. The National Education Association has printable activities, stickers, and certificates; tips about planning a reading event; and booklists.

3. Read for your school. From February 14 to March 14, 2012, or until 150,000 books are read, We Give Books is giving away to public elementary schools across America. Each school that has 50 or more books read online on its behalf during Read for My School will be eligible to earn up to 500 free books!

4. Send an e-card to a reader. Motive others to read by sending a free e-card from Reading Rockets, created by award-winning children’s book illustrators.

5. Take a child to storytime. On Saturday, February 25 at 9 am, Target has a free Dr. Seuss Storytime Reading of “The Lorax” with fun activities. Check your local library for more storytime events.

Let’s all make a special effort to read to our children on March 2 and every day!

Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

February 21, 2012

Last week, I focused on some of the outrageous and surprising tax proposals in the 2012 Hawaii legislative session. This week, let’s look at education.

There are a number of curriculum proposals, including required classes in financial literacy, college preparation, sustainability, anti-bullying, physical education, and human trafficking. I won’t detail them here; I think the Legislature can recommend curriculum changes, but the final decision should rest with the Department of Education (DOE).

Here are the education highlights from the 2012 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important education-related bills, please let me know!

There are 5 proposals that may help our students be better-prepared for college, life, and a career.

1. Mandatory kindergarten: HB11, HB97, and HB1287 require all children who are 5 years old to attend kindergarten. If Hawaii can afford it, I think this is a great idea for kids to get a head start for school.

2. First grade assessment: SB1384 requires incoming first-graders to be assessed prior to entering first grade in a public school. There is an assessment for Kindergarten; why not first grade?

3. High school financial literacy class: SB2602 requires the DOE to add a mandatory economic and financial management literacy course to the public high school curriculum. Everyone should have a basic understanding of checking accounts, household budgets, how credit cards work, and the importance of saving money.

4. High school tuition incentive: HB520 creates a tuition incentive for public school students who complete their high school education before grade 12, and attend a college within the University of Hawaii (UH) system. This is a great way to motivate students to finish high school and attend a Hawaii college. Unfortunately, it conflicts with HB954, HB1279, and SB1434, which require a minimum number of days in school to graduate.

5. Student loan interest deduction: SB2964 allows a state income tax deduction for qualified student loan interest paid on tuition expenses at the University of Hawaii system. Until we have a simplified tax code with a low rate and practically no deductions, credits, or exemptions, I would support a deduction for graduates struggling with student loans.

There are 7 proposals that may help our schools become more effective.

1. Student registration fee: HB703 requires an annual $25 registration fee for each public school or public charter school student. Public education is not supposed to be free; we are only guaranteed equal access to public education. I think that all students should have to pay some form of tuition, to offset the cost of education and to ensure that they (and their parents) value education.

2. School debit cards: HB102, HB1591, HB2220, HB2269, and SB2033 enable school principals to authorize debit cards for their teachers. We trust our teachers with our children; we can trust them to buy the supplies they need in the classroom.

3. Zero-based school budgeting: HB24 requires the University of Hawaii to use zero-based budgeting. HB25 requires the DOE to use zero-based budgeting. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to start from scratch every year, but by starting budgets at $0, we can prioritize programs and justify costs.

4. Comprehensive audits: HB479 mandates a periodic comprehensive review of the DOE. HB500 mandates a comprehensive management, financial, and program audit of the DOE. A periodic audit should be a standard practice for government agencies and businesses.

5. Student member of DOE: HB1717 requires the governor to appoint a student member to the DOE, and to allow the student member to vote on all matters, except for personnel issues. Public education is run by the state(employers) and teachers (employees), but students (customers) need a voice in policy and decision-making. It’s their future!

6. Kupuna Program: HB2307 establishes a Kupuna Program to make use of community expertise to teach Hawaiian language, culture, arts, and other skills. Not only would this help perpetuate Hawaiian culture, it would motivate senior citizens to stay active and give children good role models.

7. Hawaii Grow Your Own Teacher program: HB1931 and SB2601 create a Hawaii Grow Your Own Teacher program to train highly-skilled, committed teachers who will teach in hard-to-staff schools and hard-to-staff teaching positions. Recruiting teachers from Hawaii means that they are already familiar with the islands, may have family and friends to support them, and may be more willing to commit to teaching and stay in Hawaii.

Please think about these education issues and how they may affect you and everyone around you. If you feel strongly about an issue, speak out! Talk to your family and friends, let your Hawaii legislators know about it, and write letters to the local newspapers.

Hawaii Legislative Watch: Taxes

February 14, 2012

The 2012 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 18 – a subdued, “working” opening day without fanfare, without entertainment, without public spectacle. That said, there are 2,754 bills introduced in the House of Representatives, and 2,509 bills introduced in the Senate (as of February 6).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve skimmed through the list of proposed bills, hoping that the measure summaries are accurate. I don’t have time to read the full text of every bill, and there seems to be a lot of duplication.

Here are the tax highlights from the 2012 Legislative Session. There are many more tax proposals, increases, decreases, and adjustments; as well as numerous tax credits, exemptions, and repeals. If I’ve missed any important tax bills, please let me know!

There are 10 new and increased taxes to watch:

1. General excise tax (GET) increase: HB460 allows counties to add a 0.5% surcharge on the general excise tax to pay for water infrastructure. HB567 proposes an increase to the GET. HB1631 raises the GET to 5% for five years. SB3063 increases the GET by 1% to fund education. I oppose any increase in the GET. It taxes every level of production, from wholesale to retail, and forces us to pay taxes on the taxes we pay. It also makes our economy seem stronger, by including taxes in business income.

2. Sugary beverages tax: HB1062, HB1188, HB1216, SB1179, SB2479, SB2480, and SB3019 tax sugary beverages (including fruit and vegetable juice, and sweetened coffee and tea). This “sin tax” would raise the cost of beverages.

3. Plastic bags tax: HB1828, HB2260, HB2365, HB2821, and SB1363 tax single-use plastic bags. Plastic bags are tremendously useful. I think that single-use plastic containers are a bigger danger to our landfills.

4. Bottles and cans surcharge: HB1120 and SB2139 establish a 5¢ surcharge on deposit beverage containers. This bill would raise the price of beverages.

5. Taxes on out-of-state sales: SB1355 creates a “nexus standard” for taxing out-of-state businesses on their business activities in Hawaii. HB1183, HB1265, and SB2226 implement the streamlined sales and use tax agreement. It is unfair and unreasonable to expect businesses to cater to every state and local tax around the country. Everything costs more in Hawaii, and a tax on Internet sales and out-of-state sales would make everything more expensive for consumers – and reduce our competitiveness around the world.

6. Digital goods tax (music, movies, books, computer software): HB2677 and SB2884 impose the GET on digital goods. We already pay the GET on electronic devices and physical disks/DVDs; this bill proposes that content itself can be taxed (but not online newspapers or blogs, YET).

7. Fuel tax increase: HB1386 raises the environmental response, energy, and food security tax. HB1531 raises the liquid fuel tax for six years. HB2094 increase the fuel tax by 2¢ per barrel. SB176 increases the barrel tax to 35¢ per barrel. SB722 increase the barrel tax. SB722 raises the barrel tax. SB1131 increases the state liquid fuel tax (as well as the state vehicle registration fee and the state vehicle weight fee). Hawaii already has the highest gas prices in the country, and 45.8¢ per gallon is spent just on taxes (as of January 2011), estimates the Tax Foundation.

8. Vehicle registration fee increase: SB1131 increases the state liquid fuel tax, the state vehicle registration fee, and the state vehicle weight fee. SB2346 increases the vehicle weight tax. I actually don’t have a problem with raising vehicle registration fees, as long as the money is used to maintain the roads.

9. Household battery tax: HB2811 proposes a 5¢ fee per package of household batteries and a 10¢ refundable deposit fee per battery. We could easily promote battery recycling through the “blue” bin, instead of a tax.

10. Carbon tax: SB3013 establishes a carbon credits program, with rules for the sale and transfer of carbon credits among public and private agencies. This bill would create new government bureaucracy, possibly duplicate federal programs, and raise the price of consumer goods and electricity

There are also 5 refreshing tax proposals for LOWER taxes and tax reform:

1. GET decrease: SB849 repeals the GET on all intermediary business transactions. This would eliminate getting taxed twice on the same product.

2. Food and medical services exemption: SB269 proposes GET exemptions for food and medical services. SB852 proposes a GET exemption for food. While I believe that the GET should be replaced with a reasonable sales tax on retail-level goods, a food and medical services GET exemption is a good start to easing our tax burden.

3. Wireless surcharge repeal: HB60 and SB783 eliminate the 66¢ monthly surcharge on wireless telephone accounts, originally established to fund the wireless enhanced 911 service. The service has been established; why are we still paying for it?

4. Flat income tax: HB1900 implements a flat income tax by 2015. There are two definitions of “fair” taxes: one rate for all (a “flat” tax) and a lower rate for the rest of us (a “progressive” tax, or those who can, pay – minus the tax credits and exemptions, of course).

5. Tax reform: HB1319 and SB1203 create a task force to reform tax laws. A high school student should be able to understand and explain our tax code. Maybe we could start with this legislative session.

Please think about these tax issues and how they may affect you and everyone around you. If you feel strongly about an issue, speak out! Talk to your family and friends, let your Hawaii legislators know about it, and write letters to the local newspapers.

A 10-point government action checklist

February 7, 2012

All government legislation and action should be debated with reason and objectivity, rather than spurred by the need to “do something” or argued with emotion.

I usually evaluate legislation in a simple three-step approach: 1. Is it constitutional? 2. Will it solve the problem (and will it create new problems)? and 3. Can we afford it?

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has come up with a more comprehensive, 10-point “Government Action Checklist” to evaluate new laws and government action in a research paper, “Keep Their Feet to the Fire: The Citizen’s Checklist for Legislative Behavior” (12/12/11). Let’s keep these points in mind during the up-coming legislative session:

1. Is it necessary? Government action is not always the answer.

2. Has there been a realistic and unbiased examination of the probable consequences of the action, including social, cultural, and financial consequences? We should consider the probable impact of government action– and the possible unintended consequences.

3. What will it cost (and who will pay)? And what might we have to give up to pay for it?

4. Has there been a serious and unbiased examination of the constitutionality of the action? An unconstitutional law is illegal and wastes taxpayer money.

5. Is it enforceable? Enforceability should be possible and practical, given the available resources.

6. Will its desired impact or results be evaluated objectively? There should be objectively measurable criteria for success.

7. Who is responsible for implementing, enforcing, and evaluating it? We should be wary of any legislation that creates new agencies, divisions, or departments.

8. Does it infringe upon any individual rights or disrupt important social foundations (such as the integrity of the family or the free practice of religion)? If so, is that infringement balanced by a strong public safety or public policy argument? There must be a balance between individual freedom and public safety.

9. Does it create a burden for business or infringe unnecessarily upon free enterprise and the free market? Laws should benefit the economy without unreasonably burdening private businesses.

10. Does it create accountability for those responsible for passing and enforcing it, ultimately reserving power to reverse it in the hands of the voters? Laws and lawmakers should be held accountable to the people.

This checklist is just a starting point. Do you have suggestions or constructive ideas for evaluating government? Email and – and post your thoughts here on the Better Hawaii blog too.

“The End of Molasses Classes” by Ron Clark

February 4, 2012

Each year, almost 3,000 educators visit the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, GA to spend time in their classrooms, attend workshops, be “slide-certified” on their two-story electric-blue tube slide, and take a morning jump on their two-story bungee trampoline.

Right away, we can see that RCA co-founder Ron Clark is a different kind of educator – and he’s created a different kind of school.

In “The End of Molasses Classes: Getting our Kids Unstuck: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers” (2011), Clark shares “101 of the most effective strategies we have used to help children succeed.” The book is divided into four sections, discussing RCA’s core principles and values, and solutions for parents, teachers, and the community.

Punctuated with letters from RCA parents, photos, and “Do This” suggestions, “The End of Molasses Classes” is personal, passionate, energetic, inspirational, and exhausting. The segments are easy to read and full of personal stories and anecdotes. The foundation for Clark’s success is a mix of a willingness to ask for help, creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm.

Some of my favorite stories are a surprise apartment make-over the RCA staff did for a student’s home during Christmas; and the drive to put photos of students on a 50-foot Times Square billboard to make them feel special during a New York trip. Some of the most innovative ideas are an “Amazing Shake” in which kids practice meeting and greeting people (a greeting, a handshake, eye-contact, and a smile); student letters to the next class of students and to themselves as college graduates; a Golden Ticket and a red-carpet welcome for new students (complete with paparazzi, a band, and a cookout); an “Amazing Race;” and a field day with parents and staff playing musical chairs and water balloon wars.

One major concern is the line between rewarding outstanding effort while giving a failing score for something that does not meet high expectations, and crushing a student’s self-confidence. Clark suggests that to avoid resentful students and angry parents, teachers should show students examples of an outstanding grade, a passing grade, and a failing grade; and explain the behaviors that will earn a reward and the behaviors that will not.

Here are some of the highlights:

Core principles and values:
#1. Teach children to believe in themselves and don’t destroy the dream. When we walk into a classroom, we should “see” a class full of lawyers, business leaders, artists, and presidents.
#2. Not every child deserves a cookie. “We must hold every child accountable for high standards and do all we can to push the child to that level,” (page 8).
#3. Define your expectations and then raise the bar; the more you expect, the better the results will be.

Solutions for parents:
#26. Don’t be a helicopter parent. You can’t come to their rescue forever! “Parents: sometimes you just have to let your child take the punishment” (page 124).
#34. See the potential in every child. “When we raise our children, we need to remind ourselves that they will become what we see in them” (page 155).

Solutions for teachers:
#54. Give children a chance to respond and don’t give up too quickly. “If I have called on a student, it becomes that student’s opportunity and that student’s moment” (page 201).  Teach them to encourage struggling students and clap.
#57. Get on the desk! Or make a stage to stand on. Aside from being able to see the students and their notes, it’s fun!
#64. Don’t give children second chances on tests and projects. “If a child fails a test, he learns that he had better study harder for the next test because he is going to have only one chance” (page 225).
#65. Encourage children to cheer for each other.

Solutions for the community:
#83. Accept the fact that if kids like you all the time, then you’re doing something wrong. “Children want us to be strict, they want us to set boundaries, and they want us to be consistent” (page 268).
#91. Allow teachers the freedom to make their rooms reflect their personalities – allow them to use color! “After all, are we building these schools for adults or children?” (page 290).

I really enjoyed the high energy and dedicated enthusiasm that runs through the personal stories. As my son grows up, two of my biggest challenges are to restrain the “helicopter parent” in me and let him fail – and try harder! For more information about “The End of Molasses Classes” and the Ron Clark Academy, visit,, and