Hawaii could get $91M for school jobs under bill now in Congress
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
A bill making its way through Congress could provide Hawai'i with an estimated $91 million to save education jobs and potentially help eliminate furlough Fridays next school year, according to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's office.
According to the "Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010," legislation written by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, some $23 billion would be distributed among the states in fiscal year 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education to preserve education jobs across the country. The measure comes as states face dramatic cuts to public education and hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs nationwide.
The bill, which last week garnered the support of President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is modeled after the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, or stimulus package, which provided Hawai'i with more than $129 million in emergency education funding last school year.
Both Inouye and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka say they support the measure and see it as one possible source of funding to end furloughs of Hawai'i's public school teachers. The bill appears to have significant support among Democrats, the Washington Post reported last week, but a few Democrats and some Republicans have said they are concerned that the measure increases the federal deficit.
"Education is the lifeblood of society, and the lessons we teach our keiki and young adults are the greatest investment we can make in our future. Hawai'i's public school system is in shambles, with furlough Fridays altering the education of a generation. I support this proposal," Inouye said in a written statement to The Advertiser yesterday.
The bill is likely to receive consideration in the U.S. Senate sometime after the Memorial Day recess, said Peter Boylan, Inouye's press secretary. The House already has approved a measure that provides similar funding to states.
Akaka said furlough Fridays have put Hawai'i's students at a disadvantage and that the infusion of cash is necessary to reverse the "crippling effect" the economy has had on education budgets across the country.
"All of our nation's children deserve the best education possible, and this bill would provide the funding needed to keep Hawai'i's schools open, our teachers in the classroom and our children learning so they can have every opportunity to succeed. I applaud Chairman Harkin's initiative," Akaka said in a written statement.
The first furlough day scheduled for next school year is Aug. 27.
MONTHS OF SPARRING
For more than nine months, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the state Board of Education and Gov. Linda Lingle bickered over numerous plans and agreements to eliminate the school year's 17 furlough Fridays, which were agreed to last September and implemented a month later.
The furlough days resulted in Hawai'i having the shortest school year in the nation.
A decision by lawmakers during the legislative session to set aside $67 million from the state's Hurricane Relief Fund to eliminate next school year's furlough days theoretically ends the remaining 17 furlough Fridays in the teachers union contract. But the bill must still earn Lingle's approval, and she or the next governor will need to release the money to officially restore the furlough days.
The potential federal dollars could be another source of money to eliminate furlough days. However, the U.S. Department of Education, according to the bill's language, will require states to apply for the funds and federal education officials may place restrictions on where the money can be spent and the conditions states must agree to by accepting the money.
Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said the additional federal money would be welcomed, but he said education officials would have to look closely at the conditions placed on those dollars.
"If the federal legislation puts conditions on receiving the money, like Race to the Top grants — even to get the stabilization money there were a lot of hoops to jump through — we'd have to take a look at that and see if we can actually meet those conditions," Toguchi said.
Toguchi also said the "Keep Our Educators Working Act" was prompted by the hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs that have been occurring across the country. Hawai'i's situation is different, he said.
"We've avoided layoffs and went to furloughs instead. I wouldn't say we're in a better position, but I would say that arguably we made a more responsible decision to maintain quality of education by not laying off thousands of teachers," Toguchi said.
"The furloughs, reluctantly, have allowed us to weather the period that it took the feds to realize they need to provide more support to public education."