HONOLULU - The U.S. Department of Education said Friday it would keep Hawaii on "high risk" status for failing to carry out education reforms it promised in return for a $75 million grant from the federal government.
The designation means Hawaii may still lose the grant money if it doesn't do a better job of implementing reforms, including setting up new teacher evaluations that reflect student achievement. Hawaii must also follow through with plans to tie teacher compensation to their performance.
Steps to establish an evaluation system have been stymied by a failure of the state and the teachers union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, to agree on an approach.
Deputy Education Secretary Ann Whalen told Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a letter Friday that Hawaii has taken recent actions in the right direction to address concerns the department had. But she said most of the actions have been preliminary.
"Hawaii's Race to the Top application set a high bar for success and their work still falls short of the accomplishments that the state set out to achieve at this stage of the grant," Whalen said in a statement to the media.
She acknowledged Hawaii's effort, however, saying state and local leaders were "very passionate and have demonstrated a strong commitment to this work despite the challenges."
The department based its assessment on a four-day visit to Hawaii in March as well as monthly reports.
Department officials plan to re-evaluate Hawaii's status after another review of Hawaii's progress in five to six months.
In January, union members voted down a contract allowing for a new teacher evaluation system by a 67 to 33 percent vote.
Wil Okabe, the union's president, said Thursday that the union will ask members to vote again on the contract they rejected, in an effort to prevent the state from losing the grant. The governor said, however, that the contract no longer has any "legal status." He said he looked forward to crafting a new agreement that was current.
The Education Department upgraded Hawaii's status in one area: It doesn't need to ask the federal agency to approve its expenses on Race to the Top plans anymore, because Hawaii has met certain budget conditions.
The state Department of Education noted that the assessment recognizes Hawaii has made progress.
"A transformational change is taking place in Hawaii's public schools. This change is focused on creating a better learning environment to boost student achievement," Kathryn Matayoshi, state schools superintendent, said in a statement.