Hawaiian program lacks oversight, audit finds
An audit of the Department of Education's Hawaiian Studies Program in schools across the state has found mismanagement of funds, a lack of a cohesive plan, and even the use of a textbook in some schools that paint pre-contact Hawaii as a dark and sadistic place.
The auditor's report, released this month, said a lack of oversight, both by the Department of Education and the Board of Education, has led to huge gaps in the Hawaiian Program, an often-criticized plan started almost 30 years ago.
The program, according to the report, was started after the 1978 Constitutional Convention, which mandated the state provide the study of Hawaiian culture in all public schools.
The problem has been, the report stated, how to provide that education through the teachings of members of the community, namely the elders, or kupuna.
For the past 28 years, members of the community and kupuna, paid as substitute teachers, have been teaching students in the schools about the native language, culture and history of Hawaii, with vastly different results.
In 1993, the audit states, the kupuna were the "cornerstone" of the program. There were 360 kupuna teaching in schools, and more funding was available then, $3.4 million, as compared with now, $3.2 million.
Today, while many kupuna still teach, they have become just one component of the Hawaiian education taught at schools. And it has been hard, due to a lack of pay increases and training, to keep kupuna in every elementary and junior high school in the state.
While some of the kupuna contacted by the auditors expressed their complete satisfaction with the program and experienced a lot of support from their respective districts, principals and fellow teachers, the same amount, if not more, expressed that they have no support from anyone at the schools or from the Department of Education.
In schools where no kupuna have been hired, the funding for their pay and supplies has gone to fund things unrelated to the Hawaiian culture.
Instead of the roughly $2.8 million in funds provided to the schools specifically for the kupuna program in the 2006-2007 fiscal year, more than $860,000 was used on items such as office supplies, postage and other items unrelated to the Hawaiian culture, according to the audit.
The problems arise, the audit states, from the lack of policy both at the Board of Education and the Department of Education.
Old and outdated textbooks have found their way into the classroom. Without any oversight, four schools ordered 235 copies of a textbook, "Hawaiians of Old," that portrays the Hawaiian Islands before contact with Europeans as a dark place where punishment was cruel and sadistic. The book has been described as culturally insensitive by some of the kupuna asked to teach from it, the audit states.
Among the dozens of recommendations from the Office of the Auditor, the report indicates the Board of Education should re-evaluate the constitutional mandate, while the Department of Education should develop specific action plans for the funds and activities in the schools.
The kupuna should be trained consistently, the report stated, and the schools themselves should be held accountable for their spending practices.
School board Chairwoman Donna Ikeda did not return a call seeking comment.