Highlighting the Needs of Our Keiki
At the beginning of the 2016 legislative session, the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association (HSTA) introduced a sweeping omnibus education bill, “The Schools Our Keiki Deserve.” This bill included a 1% increase to the General Excise Tax in order to pay for a ten-point list of critical changes needed to support Hawai‘i public schools. The groundbreaking nature of this legislation was that it recognized the interrelated nature of those important issues, which in the past have been addressed with separate pieces of legislation, and it also included the funding necessary to implement the proposed improvements.
Our Hawai‘i chapter of Parents for Public Schools was excited about the media attention being given to the issues that have been holding back education in our State, and also a renewed sense of potential for real change. In January, HSTA president Corey Rosenlee presented the bill to our PPS Hawai‘i board, who subsequently voted to publicly support the teachers’ proposed omnibus legislation.
On February 5th, PPS Hawai‘i board members, staff, and general members joined with hundreds of teachers and community members from across O‘ahu for a rally in support of the legislation at the State Capital. Speakers included leaders from UNITE HERE local 5, the Aikea movement, teachers, and students. The media coverage of the event helped spread the word of the importance of this legislation.
In the following weeks, PPS Hawai‘i reviewed and analyzed responses from our ongoing “1,000 Family Voices” campaign, which is an open-ended survey designed to collect a broad spectrum of views on the things people like about public education in our state, and what they want changed. We used that information to inform our testimony, as it is part of our mission to communicate to decision makers the concerns of both our membership, as well as the opinions of families across the state. Our key points were:
- Our teachers are education’s greatest resource.
- It is time to end excessive testing and refocus education on the whole child.
- We need universal, public preschools.
PPS Hawai‘i board members Mary Weir and Lois Yamauchi submitted this testimony alongside teachers, parents, and concerned community members. Ultimately, the proposed bill received support in the Senate, but was defeated in the House.
We will not give up. The children of Hawai‘i deserve an education that includes music, arts, PE, and social studies education in order to the encourage healthy and creative development of the whole child. The teachers of Hawai‘i deserve compensation that frees them from the all-too common burden of a second job. The families of Hawai‘i deserve public preschool to support cognitive, social, and emotional development of their children starting from those early, critical years. Even though “The Schools Our Keiki Deserve” was not passed this legislative session, PPS Hawai‘i will continue working with HSTA and other partners to secure reliable funding for these and other important issues facing education in our State.
Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Education in Hawaii Public Schools
1. Educate the Whole Child:
All children should have opportunities for a well-rounded education rich in art, music, drama, PE and Hawaiian Studies. Science and social studies should stand on equal terms with the other core subjects of language arts and math. The bill proposes allocating instructional time and financial resources to teaching visual arts, music, theatre, dance, Hawaiian studies, Native Hawaiian culture and native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.
2. Support All Students:
Our special education and bilingual students need our support. Their teachers should have a limited case load so that they can give our students their full support. The bill proposes additional preparation time and funding for special education teachers and instructional materials.
3. Recognize that Class Size Matters:
Students are at the center of everything we do. Reduce class size so students can get individualized attention. The bill proposes establishing reasonable maximum class sizes for different levels rather than just recommending a ratio.
4. Create a Career Pathway:
We need to provide a robust vocational education path to rewarding careers, along with a college path. Students are interested in multiple vocations and not all careers require a college degree. Students should be able to pursue a college and a vocational path at the same time, so that when they leave high school, they can be career and college ready. The bill proposes that all public high schools provide vocational, technical and career pathway programs.
5. Provide Quality School Facilities:
Students should have a healthy and safe learning environment; No more classrooms with 90+ degree temperatures, collapsing auditoriums, and leaky roofs. If we honor children, we need to express this by investing in the spaces and places where learning occurs. The bill proposes funding for air conditioning and other capital improvement projects.
6. Properly Fund our Rural and Small Schools:
We need to commit to the success of all our keiki by ensuring that our rural and small schools are funded equitably. Under the current Weighted Student Formula they are unable to fund the necessities such as minimum staffing, classroom supplies, and basic curriculum. The bill proposes adjustments to the Weighted Student Formula to ensure that proper funding levels are provided to every school.
7. Attract and Retain the Best and Brightest to Hawaii’s Public Education System:
Attract and retain high quality teachers. Teaching should be a highly desirable profession, and teachers in Hawaii should be able to earn salaries comparable to teachers in districts with a similar high cost of living.
8. End High Stakes Testing:
We are over-testing our keiki. High stakes tests should not be used to punish schools, teachers, or students. The bill proposes that authentic assessments should be used instead that will provide teachers with formative information to use in the classroom to meet the needs of their students. Parents should have the unrestricted right to excuse their children from high stakes tests.
9. Public Preschools:
We need to ensure that all children get off to a good start. The bill proposes providing funding so that children of all socio-economic backgrounds can have access to preschool.
10. Give Teachers the Supplies They Need:
We need to make sure our classrooms have the resources that teachers and students need. Our teachers should not have to spend their own money to provide the basics supplies for our schools. The bill proposes providing teachers with the funds necessary to buy supplies for their classrooms.