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Quote: Education Second to None

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

It seems the hot buzzword this year at the legislature is “education” as lawmakers take up the shield to hopefully improve the education system in Hawaii. Of course, as in the past, the typical response is to throw money at the education system and certainly the superintendent hasn’t missed that point by asking for even more millions of dollars to be appropriated this coming biennium. There are also “backdoor” proposals to support education such as the tax credit for teachers (because they spend their own money on classroom supplies) and an exclusion of some or all of teachers’ income from the state income tax.
On the other hand, there are some downright awesome ideas that hopefully will catch the eyes and ears of lawmakers. One proposal calls for spinning off the backlog of repairs and maintenance of school facilities to an independent organization outside of the state bureaucracy. The organization would be able to receive federal, state, and private monies to fund the backlog of school repairs.
The beauty of the proposal is that projects will be funded according to the priorities set by each community in which the school facility is located where the priority would be evidenced by the willingness of the community to invest its own efforts through “sweat equity.” In other words, funds would be made available only where the community is willing to put in the time and effort, be it painting classrooms or planting a new lawn.
While the organization that would oversee this effort and award the funding would have government representatives, the governing board would largely be representatives from the community. The board would set funding criteria and evaluate the commitment by each of the applicants.
Even students will be asked to take responsibility for maintaining their schools. What a wonderful concept! No more, let’s destroy this or that because government is coming in to repair or fix it. No longer will there be whining that the department or the bureaucracy is not paying attention to a particular school. If parents and students and the community as a whole wants to make things happen then they have to be a part of the solution.
Another initiative really represents a new approach to education that lawmakers should sit up and take notice. Called “cyberspace entrepreneurs” this concept utilizes technology and business practices to engage students in the education process. What is different is that the approach asks students to do the critical thinking that seems to have been lost in the education system over the years. It makes students stop and think, to ask questions and to do the research that leads them to make the decisions.
The program is in only a few schools scattered throughout the state, but where they are in progress, teachers and parents have reported success. To replicate this program in more schools, a proposal has been thrown into the hopper to set up a formal program that would teach the techniques embodied in the program to more teachers. However, when the bill was heard in committee the other day, among the many witnesses, the only person testifying against the bill was a DOE administrator who seemingly didn’t have any good reason for opposing the bill other than the fact that the department has other programs.
Here is an innovative program that has helped to engaged students in the educational process and has helped students to think for themselves as opposed to merely memorizing facts and figures, and the department opposes it. Is there something wrong with this picture? Is all this concern about education really a result of a department that is resistant to change?
Now, there is one more idea. We have all heard about how teachers spend their own money for classroom supplies like there was no money in the budget when in reality there is. If you talk to the teachers in the trenches, the reason they go out and spend their own money is because they don’t want to put up with the red tape and paperwork of a purchase order that will take months to process. One teacher related how she put in a request for construction paper for Halloween masks which wasn’t approved until Easter. Somehow black and orange Easter bunnies didn’t seem quite in season.
A novel idea was floated in committee. Why not give teachers debit cards with a predetermined limit and encoded so only school supplies could be purchased with it. The state already uses such a system in providing welfare recipients with food stamps. Then again, that idea might just be too logical for the bureaucracy.

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