Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

Last week, I focused on some of the tax proposals in the 2013 Hawaii legislative session. This week, let’s look at education.

Some of the hot-button issues in education include public preschool, mandatory kindergarten, and school safety. One bill stands out for its scope: HB1453 attempts to reform the public education system with a barrage of reforms, such as establishing student-teacher ratios, requiring Internet access, setting teacher salaries, and more.

Here are the education highlights from the 2013 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important education-related bills, please let me know!

There are four proposals that directly affect our students.

1. Early childhood education: HB853 and SB1084 propose a constitutional amendment to establish early childhood education programs. HB862 and SB1093 establish the School Readiness Program. HB864 and SB1095 establish the Early Childhood Education Program.  I am concerned that Hawaii cannot afford it and the schools will basically provide state-funded daycare.

2. Mandatory kindergarten: HB14, HB609, and HB1466 make attendance at kindergarten mandatory. If Hawaii can afford it, I think this is a great idea for kids to get a head start for school. On the other hand, are we taking children away from their parents too soon?

3. School choice: SB278 establishes the School Choice Scholarship program to provide students access to nonpublic schools, based upon financial need. This seems like a test-case for a school voucher program, but available to only lower-income children.

4. Peer education program: SB523 establishes peer education programs in Hawaii public secondary schools.

Here are five proposals that directly affect our teachers.

1. Empowering teachers: HB684 allows a teacher to exclude from the classroom any disruptive or threatening student. Why do we need a law for this common-sense practice?

2. Adjunct teachers in the classroom: HB1276 allows schools to hire adjunct teachers who are exempt from teacher licensing requirements. This would allow schools more hiring options and encourage more people to consider teaching.

3. Adding to teachers’ workloads: HB1306 requires teachers to get 2 hours of training on human trafficking. SB643 requires teachers to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and certification. Teachers have more than enough to do right now, with teaching, preparation, grading, and extracurricular activities.

4. School debit cards: HB1376 allows school principals to use debit cards to purchase school and curriculum supplies. This sounds reasonable, as long as there is accountability for spending.

5. Income tax credits for teachers: SB573 offers a state income tax credit for school teachers. Nice help for teachers, though it will mean more paperwork, of course.

There are six big-picture proposals that affect our schools.

1. Safer schools: HB301 requires classroom doors that lock and unlock under certain circumstances; HB1479 sets up a task force to study the issue. We’re turning our schools into prisons in the name of safety. HB397, SB525, and SB1350 require anti-bullying, anti-cyberbullying, and anti-harassment programs. HB678 limits teacher-student electronic communication (email, social networking) to DOE networks only. HB1295 and SB938 establish the Peaceful Schools Program. HB1477 creates a task force to study school safety. SB701 requires a sexual abuse of children policy and establishes a task force. This is more responsibility, expenses, and paperwork for the schools; but it’s hard to vote against school safety.

2. Healthier schools: HB478 allows schools to grow and consume food from school gardens; HB1243 sets up a task force to study the issue. I don’t think we need “permission” to eat fruits and vegetables that we grow! HB1084, HB1099, and SB1378 require diabetes training for schools with students with diabetes. Isn’t this the responsibility of parents and pediatricians? SB609 requires schools to offer a vegetarian entrée at least once a week. Lunch menus should be left up to the schools and cafeteria managers.

3. Tax incentives for after-school programs: HB569 establishes a tax credit for businesses that sponsor after-school programs. I’d like to encourage businesses and the community to get involved in our schools, but can we ask for their help without offering a tax credit?

4. Local school boards: HB1051 and HB1277 propose a constitutional amendment to establish local school boards. I don’t think it will make a big difference whether it’s a statewide school board or local school boards; it will mean a lot of local input, duplicate work, and more paperwork.

5. Two more years of school: HB1472 raises the age limit from 20 years of age to 22 years of age to provide children with disabilities access to a public education. We need to consider how effective two more years of school will be and whether we can afford it.

6. Electronic-based curriculum tools pilot program: SB1296 establishes an electronic-based curriculum tools pilot program for one public intermediate or middle school. Doesn’t Hawaii have an online charter school that we could study?

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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