Surprise, zero funding for special education supplies.
On Sept. 20, Hawaii special education teachers were informed that they would no longer be receiving their annual $1,690 for school supplies. It was cut for the last two years, but the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act federal stimulus money filled the puka last year. In an attempt to undermine President Barack Obama, a do-nothing Congress has deliberately stopped all federal assistance to states.
The Hawaii Department of Education informed principals on Aug. 18 that the cut was coming, but the official decision in writing was not sent to the principals until Sept. 16. Teachers were not informed until Sept. 19. The memo stated that special education supply funds would have to be taken out of the already flawed weighted student formula, which determines funding for schools based on how many students are registered.
I don't know why the DOE waited until Aug. 18 to inform principals. It should have informed them to have a contingency plan in April. The memo stated it was the fault of the leadership at the state Legislature. After making a few phone calls to legislators, including state Rep. Angus McKelvey, the dysfunctional DOE finally admitted the $3.3 million cut was its own doing.
Because the bulk of special education supplies is different than that for general education students, this will pit special education teachers against other teachers. Because the other students outnumber special education students, it could start a trend of not allocating proper support to special education because money is deemed better spent to serve the majority of the students.
Then state schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto stated in a memo in 2007, "These funds are to be used for classroom supplies and materials, books, equipment, repair and maintenance, equipment rental, mileage, intra-state travel, postage, telephone costs." She recognized then that special education supplies generally cost more. For instance, curriculum like Wilson Reading costs $459, and the 8,000 Vantage Plus enables students with severe communication challenges to communicate their needs. Everything is also purchased from the Mainland at a gouging shipping percentage.
If DOE continues to deny funding for the special education supplies or otherwise reduces special education funding, the denial should be communicated to lawmakers, the public and the teachers and staff. At no time during the last few years did the DOE communicate that it was seeking to eliminate these funds so that teachers and parents could at least lobby the governor and Legislature to restore some of the funding.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie's cuts to weighted student formula, his 107 percent raise in health care premiums, keeping furloughs by renaming them directed leave without pay, and imposing yet another year of pay cuts and the elimination of funding for supplies has forced some teachers at my school to start a not-for-profit organization to raise funds via picketing before and after school. It is Hawaii's shame that funding education has come to this.
Since the Republican-held Congress refuses to send federal assistance, we must find solutions for properly funding education, even if it means raising the general excise tax or instituting a state lottery.
n Justin Hughey is a special education teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary School. He lives in Wailuku.