Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

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.

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