Kupuna want program audit
Hawaiian studies education is being hurt by mismanaged funds, critics contend
Some educators are demanding an audit of the Department of Education's Hawaiian Studies program, charging that its $2.8 million annual budget is being mismanaged at public schools.
About a dozen teachers, known as kupuna or elders, with the program urged lawmakers last week to support a Senate concurrent resolution asking for the audit. The measure, SCR 74, passed unanimously out of a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs committees.
Kealiioluolu Gora, president of Ka Lei Papahi o Kakuhihewa, a native Hawaiian education organization, said low support and staff cuts have plagued the program for a decade.
"This is really for the auditor to uncover a lot of the inconsistencies and the numerous violations that are going on," he said. "They are transferring money left and right."
The program, in which kupuna give students a Hawaiian perspective on everything from history to biology, started after a change to the state Constitution in 1978 mandated the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language at public schools.
The state Department of Education hires about 250 kupuna as part-time teachers paid between $20.67 to $22.43 an hour. While a small percentage of K-6 schools lack the program, the $2.8 million budget is equally distributed to all 214 elementary and middle schools statewide to fund Hawaiian education in some form, said Keoni Inciong, who became administrator of the Hawaiian Studies and Language Program in February.
"The state is responsible ... to teach Hawaiian studies and language and so forth, but it doesn't say how," Inciong said.
Schools looking to use the money elsewhere need authorization from kupuna and Inciong's office to make sure it goes toward Hawaiian education.
But some are questioning the funds' spending.
Iolani Suda, a kupuna, said she was told that low funds caused Makaha Elementary to drop her teaching load from 17 hours a week to about 30 hours a month last year, even though money to pay for her job had already been allocated for that school year.
"I believe the purpose for this audit is to cease the misusage of kupuna funds," Suda, who now works at Nanakuli Elementary School, wrote in her testimony.
Inciong said the program has district representatives who meet four times a year on Oahu to raise concerns and receive training. But Inciong, who acknowledged a music teacher was recently hired through Hawaiian program funds, said he supports an audit.
"That will set a lot of things straight and also gives us focus and direction," he said. "We know it's not perfect."
Greg Knudsen, DOE spokesman, said he wasn't aware of the alleged problems with the program. The department also would agree to an audit if one was requested, he said.