Hawaii ranks 19th in per-pupil spending
The state pays $8,997 for every student
Hawaii spent $8,997 per public school student in the 2004-05 fiscal year, ranking 19th among states in an annual U.S. Census Bureau study.
Per-pupil spending at isle schools was $296 above the national average of $8,701, according to Census data released yesterday. New York led the nation with $14,119, and Utah came in last at $5,257.
Hawaii has historically placed in the middle of the pack in student spending, though there has been an upward trend in recent years. The state moved up from 20th place in the 2003-04 year when it rose past Virginia.
Education officials, however, contend the list is skewed because it does not consider the state's higher living costs.
"If you did apply the cost-of-living adjustment, you'd see a whole different ranking," said Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen. "It would definitely drop toward the end of the list, if not to the bottom."
Most of Hawaii's education money, $1.9 billion, came from the state, compared with nearly $237 million from the federal government and $50.5 million from local sources, according to the report. About 60 percent of the funds went to instruction, in line with national figures.
Knudsen said the study placed Hawaii at the top in state funding -- 87.4 percent -- because of its islandwide educational system. He said that structure prevents schools in wealthy neighborhoods from getting more money than those located in poor areas.
"It evens things out," Knudsen said.
That statewide model also explains why Hawaii ranked near the bottom in general administrative expenses at a low $114 per student, compared with the $168 national average. But costs for school administration were much higher, at $594 per pupil, or ninth in the nation.
Meanwhile, spending on teacher pay and benefits reached $5,498 per pupil because of a 3 percent salary increase in the 2004-05 year, moving Hawaii up to 16th from 21st in that category. Still, those incentives have not helped the state end a teacher shortage, said Joan Husted, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Sixty percent of teachers from the mainland quit after their third year, citing steep housing and food costs as their top reason, followed by complaints over a lack of administrative support and trouble adjusting to life away from friends and family, according to the teachers union.
Hawaii needs to hire about 3,400 teachers in the next two years.
"They come here sometimes without really understanding the impact of the cost of living," Husted said, "and then find they have absolutely no hope of ever owning a house."