HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Education (DOE) is faced with making more than 200 million in budget cuts thanks to COVID-19. The teacher’s union knows cuts are needed but said they come at the expense of students and teachers.

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The DOE is proposing hefty budget cuts to the Board of Education (BOE) Thursday. Those cuts amount to $264 million for each of the next two years.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee said while cuts are needed, the proposed reductions could be detrimental.

“The two largest proposed cuts are a 10 percent cut to the weighted student formula and a nine percent cut to special education,” Rosenlee said.

Rosenlee said that could put 1000 special education and regular education teaching positions on the chopping block and threaten programs.

“Programs such as art, music, Hawaiian studies, Hawaiian language immersion, career and technical education, Physical Education all could be reduced or eliminated.”

He said class sizes may also increase, and advanced placement, electives, gifted and talented programs could be eliminated as well.

Rosenlee suggested alternative cuts.

“There’s certain budget cuts that might actually improve education. I’ll give you one example. One of the things that we’re submitting in our testimony is, we are looking at using fewer bus drivers and having them have longer periods of time where they’re doing their bus routes, by expanding when schools begin. Research actually shows that starting school earlier actually improves student attendance and outcomes,” Rosenlee explained.

Cutting standardized testing could also save tens-of-million according to Rosenlee.

In a letter submitted to the BOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wrote:

“The reductions contained in the proposed operating budget reflect what the Department must consider under the present circumstances to navigate through the revenue shortfall. These reductions are by no means ideal and will impact the educational services provided to our students. The Department also recognizes this proposed operating budget is only a starting point as the Legislature must still do its work of reviewing and making decisions about the State department budgets during the upcoming legislative session.”

In a statement, Kishimoto said:

“As a state agency, the DOE was tasked with identifying budget reductions of at least 10 percent for the next two years. That’s on top of an already $100.2 million reduction to the base budget sustained this school year, for a total budget reduction of more than $264 million in each school year beginning July 1.

The HIDOE is a best-practice state, with the lowest spending nationally for general administration. Therefore, with 94 percent of the Department’s funds spent directly by or for activities at the school level, these cuts will be felt by students. We will continue to reiterate that an investment in students is an investment in Hawaii’s future.”

The BOE will discuss the DOE’s proposal during its meeting Thursday at 11 a.m.

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