Funding Public Education – The art of kicking the can down the road

Watching and listening to various individuals and organizations beating up on public school teachers and their effort to increase funding for public education is disheartening.

Every single opponent leads with, “I support public education and teachers but…(fill in the reason for opposing paying more for education)”.

Almost everyone acknowledges that public education is underfunded but those holding the reins of power and money, refuse to support any increased funding.

Their children of course go to private school, as did mine.

But the vast majority of Hawaii’s children attend public schools, as I did when I was in school. We as a community are morally obligated to make available to all children an education that provides them with the foundational skills needed to survive and prosper in an increasingly complex world.

Hawaii teachers are the lowest paid in the country, when the cost of living in Hawaii is factored in. Each year 1,000 teacher positions remain vacant, and positions are often filled by uncertified and unqualified long term substitutes. In addition to low teacher pay, small class sizes which have been proven to increase student learning also require a public investment. The list of funding needs for public education is long, and the neglect by the legislature to adequately funding those needs extends even longer.

The legislature and the public has been playing a game of “whack a mole” for a long, long time, effectively dodging the responsibility of properly funding Hawaii’s public education system. They say no to increasing the General Excise Tax (GET), no to raising tourist taxes (except for rail of course), no to taxing sugar drinks, and no to legalizing and taxing cannabis, taxing retirement income, casino gambling and/or a lottery.

Whack the mole, pass the buck, and kick the can down the road is how our state has dealt with funding public education, and we all should be a little ashamed of ourselves for letting that happen.

The Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Realtors, the big banks and the big landowners and developers, rarely if ever support any tax increases for any reason. Their world and the world of politics and policy is driven by self interest. I get that.

But don’t shovel out the shibai narrative that the Department of Education (DOE) needs to be audited first. Can’t we audit and increase efficiencies at the same time we are increasing funding? And don’t give us the disingenuous hyperbole that “this is going to cost everyone”. Shouldn’t it cost everyone? Shouldn’t we all pay a little?

The legislative intent is clear. The new surcharge will be targeted at the wealthy investor who does not live here and who does not rent to local residents. The intent and the actual language in the amendment is clear as well. The funds will go to education.

Though the opposition’s favorite whipping boy of the moment are teachers, the funds raised should this pass, will not necessarily go to them. I would hope that it does, but the language simply says to fund “public education”. Teacher pay is an issue of collective bargaining and subject to contract and negotiation as are all public worker salaries.

We owe teachers a debt of gratitude. They work long hours for substandard wages, and we rarely even say thank you. Now, when they take an upfront role in pushing to increase funding for public education, they are bashed and pounded upon by the bastions of the business community who themselves have failed to step up and help.

There is no right way to raise taxes so the result is nothing happens.

This insane cycle of neglect must stop.

The proposed constitutional amendment, allows the public to choose to increase the funding for public education via a surcharge on investment properties, or do nothing and just keep whacking the mole.

The choice is ours. I am voting yes.

*first published on October 17th, 2018 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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