Busting the big myths about the DOE budget
THERE'S a lot of misinformation floating around about the Department of Education's budget. The following points will help clarify some of the most common myths:
» The public schools get half of the state budget. Not accurate. The current state operating budget totals $9.1 billion. While the DOE's operating budget of $2 billion is a sizable figure, it amounts to less than 23 percent of the state's total budget, not half. These figures are from actual legislative appropriations and are consistent with the document "Budget in Brief," prepared by the Department of Budget and Finance (B&F).
» The DOE's budget has grown $1 billion in less than a decade. Not exactly. While the DOE budget has grown, the $1 billion increase can be attributed to just a few factors:
1. Ten years ago, costs for DOE employee benefits, debt service and risk management were reported under the B&F budget, as they are for all other state agencies except the University of Hawaii. These items, totaling more than $573 million in the current fiscal year, were transferred to the DOE budget in fiscal year 2000-01 and account for 57 percent of the decade's appearance of growth.
2. Special education services rapidly expanded under federal mandate during the Felix Consent Decree. Special education expenditures have increased $324 million during the last 10 years -- an expensive yet necessary cost to the state.
3. Entire programs that 10 years ago were budgeted to and performed by other state agencies are now under the DOE roof, such as student transportation services ($26 million), the capital improvements program ($13 million), and minor repair and maintenance funding ($15 million). This "delinking," part of the Reinventing Education Act of 2004, will continue as personnel and student health programs are transferred from other state agencies to the DOE.
4. Because of inflation, everything cost less 10 years ago. In 1995 Hawaii's consumer price index was 168.1; in 2005 it was 197.8 -- an increase of 17.7 percent. This means a $1 billion budget has to grow nearly $177 million over 10 years just to maintain services.
Since these items alone account for more than the $1 billion growth, it's clear that the DOE base budget has increased -- but not with respect to its programmatic needs.
» Private schools average $6,000 in tuition. Not accurate. According to a tuition survey by the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and private school Web sites, it's evident that most tuitions are much higher. While many of the smaller, mostly church-supported private schools have tuition under $6,000, most of the larger and better-known private schools charge $10,000 and above. Further, tuition rarely covers the full cost of a private school student's education. Therefore, comparisons with the per pupil expenditures of the public schools -- which include high-cost special education, at-risk and second-language services that most private schools don't provide -- are misleading and incomplete.
The public schools' budget is large and complex. The DOE is committed to helping taxpayers gain a clear and accurate understanding of where their education dollars are going and whether the money is being well spent.
Edwin Koyama is the budget director for the state Department of Education.