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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Hawai'i ranked 24th in per-pupil spending

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Finding a new source of money for Hawai'i's schools will be a major goal in the next legislative session, according to schools chief Paul LeMahieu.

A national study released yesterday shows that Hawai'i's per-pupil spending remains lower than the national average.

Hawai'i spent $6,657 per student in 1999-2000 — about $400 less than the national average, according to the report by the National Education Association, one of the country's two largest teacher unions. That places Hawai'i 24th overall.

"When you take those figures and adjust them for the cost of things, you don't have altogether all of the tools you need to run the kind of system that this place deserves," LeMahieu said.

While the governor and LeMahieu have disagreed in the past on how well the state supports education, LeMahieu maintains that Hawai'i lags behind no matter how the numbers are crunched.

The Legislature recently approved a $3 billion budget for education for the next two years, increasing the Department of Education's budget by $172 million in the first year.

The problem in Hawai'i is that the public schools do not have a dedicated revenue stream, LeMahieu said. On the Mainland, city governments contribute a large percentage to local school district budgets based on property taxes. Because Hawai'i has a unique, statewide district, all money comes from the state budget.

Given that, it would stand to reason that Hawai'i would contribute more to education from the state budget than any other state, said University of Hawai'i assistant professor Scott Thomas. But, in proportional terms, Hawai'i actually spent 4 percent less on education from the state budget than the national average in 1998, he said.

The Hawai'i Education Policy Center, which Thomas heads, is working on a report that examines the state's financial commitment to education.

LeMahieu said he wants to explore other ways of funding education. In a recent Department of Education poll, nearly two-thirds of 620 people surveyed said they would support a small increase in the state general excise tax or income tax if it went directly to benefit education.

The NEA report released yesterday also showed that while revenue for K-12 education increased nationally, it did not keep pace with economic growth. While total personal income in the United States grew 5.9 percent from 1998 to 1999, education revenue per enrolled student increased 3.6 percent.

"It's inexcusable that during a decade of unprecedented economic growth in this country, students were left behind," said NEA President Bob Chase. "What does that say about the real value we place on education?"

The report also disclosed that Hawai'i teachers' salaries have dropped over the last 10 years when adjusted for inflation.

Between 1989 and 2000, teachers' pay in Hawai'i fell 3.9 percent, according to the report.

Alaska ranked last, with a drop in teachers' pay of nearly 17 percent. West Virginia teachers' pay increased by more than 16 percent.

Overall, Hawai'i's teachers are the 20th highest-paid in the nation, according to the report. Hawai'i State Teachers Association Executive Director Joan Husted said the recent pay increase would raise Hawai'i to about 14th, assuming no other state grants teacher pay raises.