2017 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

Hawaii Legislature 2017

The 2017 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 18 with prayers, speeches, and music. Hawaii residents definitely need the prayers – our lawmakers have been busy, introducing 1,601 bills in the House of Representatives and 1,317 bills in the Senate. It’s a mountain of paperwork, negotiation, tax dollars, and details.

Every year, I do a legislative round-up that spotlights bills that could have a big impact on Hawaii. I will focus on taxes, education, individual rights vs. government powers, controversial issues, and (in my opinion) unnecessary and wasteful spending. With over 2,900 bills being proposed in 2017 and less time than ever to read through them, I rely as always on bill summaries to accurately reflect the bills’ intentions.

Here is an overview of the significant education bills being proposed in the 2017 Legislative Session. I’ve organized the bills into three sections: 6 bills that could be positive steps in education, 5 bills that micromanage schools, and 3 bills that need more discussion. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

6 bills that could be positive steps in education:

  1. Promoting careers in teaching. HB1169 would require the University of Hawaii to promote careers in teaching to high school students. Instead of complaining about the lack of teachers, we can do something about it.
  2. Promoting college savings. HB1074 and SB940 would allow State income tax deductions for college savings. Instead of worrying about student debt, we can encourage families to save more for college.
  3. Making college more accessible and affordable. HB1154 and 1020 would offer scholarships at UH community colleges. HB1591, HB1594, SB135 and SB1162 would create a scholarship program called the University of Hawaii Promise Program. SB15 would make community college tuition free for residents. I tentatively support this program, but I want to know more about how much it would cost and how students would qualify.
  4. Reducing the burden of student loans. HB958 would allow individuals to pay student loan debt with pre-tax income. HB1276 and SB1081 would offer a State income tax deduction of up to $5,000 per year for student loan interest paid on qualified education loans. This could help reduce anxiety and student loan defaults.
  5. Promoting computer science classes. HB1166 and SB299 would encourage computer science classes in high school and college. Technology jobs can help keep Hawaii’s graduates in Hawaii.
  6. Getting ready to work. SB298 would create a Workforce Readiness program that would allow students to graduate from an extended high school enrollment with a high school diploma and an industry-recognized associate’s degree. SB619 would create a K-12 Curriculum to Career Pipeline initiative. We need to prepare students for getting jobs – and promotions.

5 bills that micromanage schools:

  1. Legislating class size and minimum teacher salary. SB176 would limit the class size in public schools to 18 students and establish a minimum salary for new teachers of $55,000 per year. I think schools should have the flexibility to decide class size.
  2. 100 years of student records. HB1232 and SB1100 would require schools to keep student records for at least 100 years. Why 100 years? Why would someone need their school records from over 50 years ago?
  3. Jumping through hoops for innovation grants. HB1092 and SB958 would make teachers and schools write grants for “innovative” programs. I think schools should be the gate-keepers of innovation, and teachers should not have to spend extra time writing grant proposals.
  4. School libraries required. SB616 would require all public schools to have a library. I think that schools should make this decision.
  5. Legislator approval for university tuition fees. HB23 would require University of Hawaii tuition increases to be approved by the Hawaii State legislature. I think that UH should retain the authority to set tuition, without getting politicians involved.

3 bills that need more discussion:

  1. Local school boards. HB1201 would create at least 7 local school boards. One school district may offer cost savings (economies of scale); local school districts may offer more flexible and innovative solutions. Before creating a flatter bureaucracy with more bureaucrats, can we fix the system we have?
  2. Anti-bullying classes for students and parents. HB890 and SB561 would require anti-bullying policies that include anti-bullying classes for students who have engaged in bullying as well as their parents/guardians. I think that the parents who would attend an anti-bullying class are the parents who already support their children. Are there other, less formal ways to reach students and parents?
  3. Student loan forgiveness for State employees. SB348 would offer a loan forgiveness program for University of Hawaii graduates who work for the State or county. While I admire innovative solutions to student loan debt, I think this would be an expensive program and could result in government expansion as more people work for the government.

The 2017 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 4. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, our children, and our grandchildren. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

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