HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Board of Education (BOE) voted on several funding proposals from the Department of Education (DOE) on Thursday, Feb. 18. The DOE is facing steep budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but several proposals have raised questions from teachers and unions.

The DOE offered incentives in 2019 to fill high-vacancy teaching positions in hard-to-staff areas like Nanakuli and Molokai and to fill special education and Hawaiian immersion programs.

About 4,000 teachers filled those jobs in January, 2020.

“By having these incentives we could get teachers to move into these areas, and it worked,” explained Corey Rosenlee, Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) president. “And in one year alone, we cut the teacher shortage in all of Hawaii by 25%, and special education alone we decreased the vacancies by 66% in one year.”

The pandemic left the DOE with huge budget cuts and DOE Superintendent Kishimoto sent a memo last week to end the inventive program, which costs roughly $32 million.

“She unilaterally sent out a memo saying to get rid of them without going to the Board of Education,” explained Rosenlee.

“Everyone’s struggling right now, and people moved. In order to get these differentials, they changed what they were teaching because it was on a promise, and you don’t change that,” he continued.

The BOE voted to rescind the memo and keep the incentive program in place. The DOE has been debating on how to use its $184 million in federal funds.

The DOE proposed about $49 million be spent for tutoring, but many argued that money should go to paying teachers and avoiding layoffs and furloughs.

The HSTA and several BOE members suggested the DOE wait for President Biden’s proposed stimulus package.    

“We’re hoping maybe about $450 million for education in Hawaii and with that we’re hoping that we can avoid things like losing jobs, pay cuts, and keep a great program like the differentials,” said Rosenlee.

The DOE explained how it proposed to use nearly $184 million in federal funds from the most recent COVID-19 federal relief package. HSTA said, the department wanted to spend nearly one-third of the federal funds — $49 million — on tutoring and academic coaching.

The BOE voted on Thursday to have the DOE cover the incentives program for another year and have the DOE return to the Board for future discussions once federal funds are allocated and the state legislature finalizes the budget for DOE for the fiscal year 2022.