What’s next for schools after Con Am?

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It’s back to the drawing board on how the state can generate more money for public school education. Now that the constitutional amendment question has been invalidated by the Supreme Court, both sides of the argument are planning for the future. They agree: a joint collaboration is needed to find solutions for Hawaii’s keiki. 

The state has passed various bills to fund education, yet the Hawaii State Teachers Association tells us at the end of day there are only four solutions. 

“The only things that bring in enough revenue to help our education system is the general excise, the income tax, the property tax, and the hotel tax,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. 

Governor David Ige points to one more, he says he’s expecting more than $4-billion will be generated off of the state’s tax system modernization program. 

“I’ve always believed that the new tax system will give us better data and analytics that will generate additional revenues which could be applied to our public school system,” said Governor Ige. 

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto says she has nearly $2-billion to work with. 

“93 percent of our state funds are in schools in the classrooms. 93 percent of the state’s budget is in the classroom either directly in the hands of the school’s principals or in shared services like busing and food,” said Superintended Kishimoto. 

Still the Affordable Hawaii Coalition, a group not in favor of the Con Am, says there needs to be more transparency with the DOE’s budget. They’ve enlisted the help of the Education Institute of Hawaii to do a financial study. 

“We are going through that process of getting that data. It takes time to make sure we got that entire ledger, make sure we got the entire fiscal data that is going to give us the acuity that we would need to do the analysis of the entire operational budget,” said Education Institute of Hawaii President Ray L’Heureux. 

“Once we know how much of it is actually getting to the schools, how it’s being used at the school level, and where the spending decisions been made then I think everybody inside the system and outside the system will be equipped to make an informed decision as to whether the spending is adequate,” said UH Law Professor and community activist Randall Roth. 

The DOE responds:

We are aware of the project and have worked with EIH on their multiple 92-F requests regarding the Department’s finances. 

The Department has for many years maintained a budget page on its website with detailed information about its operating and capital improvements program budgets, funding sources, and allocations to schools every year dating to 1999.

As part of our commitment to fiscal transparency, the DOE’s finances are audited annually by an external auditor procured by the State Office of the Auditor. The Annual Financial and Single Audit Report is delivered to the Board of Education every year in advance of the federal deadline of March 31, and is posted to our website.

More granular school-level financial reporting, including per-pupil expenditures, will launch in December with the issuance of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) reports that incorporate new accounting requirements under the updated federal education law. 

We asked if HSTA would try to amend the constitution again this time with more specific language, we’re told at this moment there are no plans moving forward.
 

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