We have an education equity emergency in Hawaii

This summer, after years of supporting legislation to better fund our schools, Parents for Public Schools of Hawai’i set up a coalition to support the education funding measure for a constitutional amendment to enable the legislature to levy a property tax surcharge on residential investment properties. We are redoubling our efforts to reach voters with the needs of our students and insight into how and why this type of tax is our best next step.

A super PAC, cynically named “Affordable Hawai’i,” is striking fear into our voters with misleading claims.

Claims to protect low- and middle-income taxpayers while protecting investor profits is an approach well-known to us nationally, but it is distressing to see it here in Hawaii where we expect community members to step up to our kuleana.

This well-funded super PAC may protect investor profits at the expense of our public school children.

We have an education equity emergency in Hawaii. Children do not have equal access to quality education.

Public school students are suffering, and students of color and in lower income demographics are hurt most, with a more severe lack of qualified experienced teachers and effective, safe learning environments. Almost 20 percent of our students statewide, and in Honolulu almost 40 percent, go to private school. Funding public schools adequately could enable families to avoid the hardship of private school tuitions on top of our high cost of living.

Our over-heated housing market boasts the lowest property taxes in the U.S. Low property taxes make Hawaii properties magnets for investment from Mainland and foreign investors. Developers, investors, Realtors and corporations have long profited from the unusual twin benefit of lower taxes plus higher competition, inflating values. Raising property taxes would bring equilibrium, making homes and rents more affordable to residents.

This well-funded super PAC is now running ads to fight our education funding ballot measure, claiming it will raise rents without acknowledging that the community benefits from higher taxes on investment properties, in addition to the school funding.

It is time for us to stand up for public schools, at the same time reducing profiteering in our housing market.

We, the voters, have an opportunity, after decades of neglect, to fix this unfairness, to protect opportunities for all. With voter support, we can ensure the Legislature will implement this measure as intended with surcharges only on residential investment property values at over $1 million in value.

Some folks say this measure is flawed and we should try other approaches. But all approaches have downsides, and most of them have already been tried and failed. On balance, these objections are self-serving excuses. We must provide reliable funds to our schools and this is our chance. The money must come from somewhere, and of the choices of how to do it, this solution is the most equitable.

This measure leaves specifics to the legislators. The vote is step one in establishing reliable funding for schools. With the strength of the vote, we will continue to hold legislators to the clear intent of this measure: dedicate the revenue from this surcharge to education, in addition to the current level of school funding, and apply the surcharge to residential investment properties over $1 million.

Each year that we fail to fund our schools adequately, many students fall behind, many irretrievably.

A vote against the education funding ballot measure favors more fortunate, off- and on-island property owners at the expense of children of the middle class and the poor.

We hope you will encourage voters to vote yes to fund access to quality education for all Hawaii keiki.

* Deborah Bond-Upson is a board member of Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii and leads the Fund Our Hawaii Schools Coalition which includes organizations and community members working to ensure access to quality education for all.

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