Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

2014 Hawaii Legislature

The 2014 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 15. As of January 23, the bill introduction cut-off date, there were 1,240 bills introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,189 bills introduced in the Senate.

The legislative session is more than half-way through, but I wanted to provide an overview of the proposed bills that could have a big impact on our state.

Earlier this month, I highlighted tax proposals that could affect us all. This week, I’m highlighting education proposals, spending, and reforms. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know! And if you have updates about any of the measures, please feel free to post an update.

Top 3 educational reforms to maintain our schools and encourage college graduates:
* Crowdfunding for education: HB2631 would establish a civic crowdfunding pilot program to fund specific repair and maintenance projects at Hawaii public schools. This would help us decide exactly how our money is used, and let us help the schools and projects that we support. It seems modeled on DonorsChoose.org, which lets teachers ask for help in funding a project or classroom supplies.
* Pay college tuition after you graduate and get a job: HB1516, HB1524, HB1566, HB1874, SB2209, SB2379 would propose a “pay forward, pay back” pilot tuition program. This is a great idea to encourage higher education and possibly encourage college graduates to stay in Hawaii. Ideally, the program would be self-sustaining, with tuition pay-backs supporting current students; but I don’t know how much it would cost to set up.
* Department of Education audit: HB1530 would require a financial and management audit of the DOE. Hawaii spends around 26% of the state budget on education, according to usgovernmentspending.com. But many of us don’t trust that the money is being spent efficiently. An audit could help us find more ways to cut back on waste and inefficiency, and create more trust in the DOE.

4 more positive education reforms:
1. High school tuition for foreign students: HB1696 would allow charter high schools to charge tuition to foreign students who study online with the school and attend the school for at least one semester to earn a diploma. This makes sense. Public education is paid for by Hawaii taxpayers, to benefit Hawaii and US military schoolchildren.
2. Emergency response for anaphylactic shock and sudden cardiac arrest: SB2017 would require that schools maintain a supply of epinephrine for anaphylactic emergencies, to be administered with the written authorization of the student’s parent or guardian, as well as medical certification. HB1777 and SB2422 would allow trained volunteers to administer epinephrine for anaphylactic emergencies, with parental permission and supplies. HB1747 and SB2610 would require schools to have automated external defibrillators (AED) and athletic trainers to be certified in their use. This sounds reasonable, as long as there is parental permission, and teachers and school administrators can volunteer for certification.
3. Equal participation for home-schooled students: SB2165 would allow home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities offered at their local public school. I thought this was already the law?
4. Seat belts in school buses: SB2271 would require school buses to be equipped with seat belts by 2017. Not only would it keep kids safer in an accident and make bus driving more orderly, it would also show children that they must obey the seatbelt law.

7 education reforms we can’t afford:
1. Mandatory kindergarten: HB1487, HB1818, HB2025, HB2419, and SB2768 would make kindergarten mandatory. I think that parents should make the decision to enroll children in preschool and kindergarten, not the government. Some children might benefit from spending more time with parents and family members, before being sent to a classroom.
2. More restrictions in the cafeteria: SB2019 would require that school meal menus include certain nutritional information. SB2190 would require school menus with options for low-fat, plant-based, and high fiber entrees. We already strive to offer healthy meals. I would rather put this effort into the classroom and extracurricular activities, or sponsor nutrition workshops for parents.
3. Another statewide literacy program: HB1596 would establish a statewide literacy program utilizing local programs and nonprofits to provide direct services. This seems redundant; we already have multiple literacy programs.
4. More school surveys: HB1925 and SB2210 would require students in grades 6-12 to take a Youth Risk Behavior Survey in odd-numbered years. Why is this necessary? I am uncertain about how honestly students would answer these questions and whether it is worth the cost of the survey.
5. New Instructional Office of Hawaiian Studies: HB1551, HB1552, SB481, and SB2740 would establish the Instructional Office of Hawaiian Studies to provide instruction to public school students in Hawaiian history, culture, arts, and language. Is this necessary? Most schools already offer Hawaiian culture and history classes, and there are many museums, celebrations, and non-school opportunities to learn about Hawaiian culture.
6. Tax credit for homeschoolers: HB2603 would establish an income tax credit for parents or guardians who home-school their children. It sounds nice, but then everyone without school-age children or who send their children to a private school would ask for a credit.
7. More school and community gardens: HB1571 and SB2226 would authorize programs to encourage school and community gardens. This sounds reasonable, but there are already nonprofits and community groups that help create public gardens. Can we work with existing groups, before using taxpayer money?

9 education bills that are up for debate:
1. Longer school day and longer school year: HB1675 and SB2139 would require all public secondary schools to offer 990 student instructional hours, repeal the requirement that all public schools implement a school year of 180 days, and repeal the requirement that all public schools require 1,080 student instructional hours for elementary and secondary school grades. SB2922 would lengthen the school year from 180 days to 190 days. It sounds reasonable that more time in school would mean a better education, but there is also a lot to learn outside of the classroom. Maybe the school day and school year should be based on what children need to learn, rather than teaching to fill up instruction hours.
2. Back to junior kindergarten: HB1578 would delete the repeal of junior kindergarten. HB1665 and HB2632 would delay the change in the cut-off date for kindergarten by one year. HB2389 would change the kindergarten cut-off date back to December 31 (instead of July 31 as set in Act 178). These bills just delay the decision-making. Make a decision and stick with it. Not all children are ready for kindergarten.
3. Junior kindergarten for some: SB2189 would allow the Early Learning Advisory Board to determine whether a “late-born” child (born between August 1 and December 31) who is ineligible for kindergarten, should be allowed to attend kindergarten. SB2299 would allow the principal to allow 4-year olds into kindergarten. These bills have some conflicts – junior kindergarten may be reinstated; 30 will public schools will offer preschool. If younger children are ready for kindergarten, what about age-eligible children who are not ready?
4. Public preschool classrooms: HB1676 and SB2236 would allow the Executive Office on Early Learning to use vacant or underutilized classrooms as public preschool classrooms. This may be premature –junior kindergarten may be reinstated and 30 public schools will offer preschool.
5. Physical and dental exams: HB1776 and SB2235 would require children to have physical exams prior to attending kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade. HB2456 would require a child to have a dental exam prior to entering an elementary, middle, intermediate, or high school for the first time. SB2298 would fund hearing and vision tests in schools. This sounds reasonable, but this should be the responsibility of parents and pediatricians. If the DOE begins keeping student health records, what will they use the information for and how will they protect students’ privacy?
6. Restraint and seclusion: HB1796 and SB2371 would allow schools to restrain and seclude students who pose an imminent danger to others. HB2302 and SB2852 would allow schools to restrain and seclude individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities to reduce the risk of harm. I appreciate that we need to keep students and staff safe, but I am concerned about restraining children.
7. School “scholarships” (vouchers): SB2231 would create scholarships to eligible students for enrollment in nonpublic schools based upon financial need. I like the idea of offering children more choices of schools, but taxpayer money already pays for public schools. How much more money will be spent on education? Shouldn’t this be handled through private scholarships and grants?
8. Sex education: HB1778 would regulate sex education programs and the definition of genitalia. HB1794 and SB2213 would specify elements of sex education and allows parents to opt-out students. HB2374, HB2480 would allow parents to opt-out students from certain health lessons. HB1884 would regulate sex education and make curricula information public. As a parent, I would want to preview the sex education curriculum and opt-in, rather than opt-out.
9. $25 million for air conditioners: HB2596 would appropriate $25 million for air conditioning in classrooms. HB1690, SB2320, SB2424, and SB2559 would appropriate an unspecified amount for air conditioners. Not all classrooms need or can afford air conditioners, which have continuing costs in maintenance and electricity. Can we try less expensive solutions first, like fans, portable air conditioning units, rooftop cooling systems, or canopies so that classes can be moved outdoors?

The 2014 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 1. 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.

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