The education issue that refuses to die
After abandoning the issue for a year, Gov. Linda Lingle appears to be again looking at splitting up the state school board.
Last week, she ridiculed the centralized state system, saying, "Our state is the only one with a central school board.
"The reason nobody else has this is because it doesn't work. The proof that it doesn't work is we rank near the bottom. If we ranked near the top you could make a case that the central school board works," she said.
Lingle's failure to persuade the Legislature to go along with what would have been a historic policy shift to independent boards prompted her to pull out of the debate last year.
"I think it is pretty dead. The legislators themselves could resurrect it. ... There is nothing new you can put forward," Lingle said last November.
Asked if she would again bring up the issue, she said, "No."
Since then the issue appears to have come back.
After mentioning the problems with schools boards twice last week, Lingle received some added ammunition when The Nation's Report Card 2005 came out showing that Hawaii's fourth- and eighth-grade students still ranked near the bottom in reading and math scores.
This time, Lingle says she isn't starting the debate, she is responding to citizen complaints.
"It keeps coming up more and more. It keeps being raised by the public, more so than by me," Lingle says.
Last year, Lingle changed her education pitch, attempting to finesse her legislative defeat by claiming credit for starting the debate on education reform.
The debate about the future of education doesn't just involve Lingle. Improving public school education in Hawaii remains the No. 1 concern, according to a recent round of opinion polls, including one taken for the Democratic Party.
Of concern to Democrats in next year's election will be how the weighted student formula plays with voters.
Last week, the school board started implementing the plan that will result in taking money from some schools to give it to others.
Lingle has already keyed in on the possible changes, noting, "The focus on public education has brought about what will be a major change in how education funding comes about, through the weighted student formula."
For the past decade, Hawaii education scores have been a symptom of a host of problems with the educational system, ranging from crumbling buildings, the inability to attract outstanding teachers and an overwhelming sense of bureaucratic self-preservation. The resulting public frustration has been a ready political issue that causes Republicans to demand reform and Democrats to repeatedly announce "Mission Accomplished."
The escalating political debate will be one that neither Lingle nor the Democrats will be able to ignore next year.
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org