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StarBulletin.com

Hamamoto's budget claims don't add up


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POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Department of Education Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto, a former teacher, could use a refresher course in basic math. Her calculations on the DOE budget are all wrong. And worse yet, she unnecessarily scares teachers, students and parents into thinking we are running out of money to operate our schools (Star-Bulletin, March 26).

Let's look at the facts.

First, under the federal economic stimulus package recently passed by Congress, the Hawaii DOE will receive almost $80 million in new money this year. This is money schools can use to help children from disadvantaged families and children with special education needs. This money is also available for early childhood education programs and can be used to purchase new software for online learning classes.

Second, the education department will benefit from $35 million in new, discretionary stimulus money the governor is making available to improve learning in science, technology, engineering and math — core skills our students need to function successfully in the workforce of the 21st century.

Third, the Lingle-Aiona administration has offered to work with the department to compete for billions of federal stimulus dollars offered by the U.S. Department of Education to improve student assessments, encourage innovation in the delivery of education and enhance the professional development and skills of our teachers.

Fourth, the governor has asked the Legislature to restore $60 million in cuts to the education budget that were proposed in the House version of the biennium budget covering the fiscal year that starts in July 2009.

This is money the DOE needs to retain teachers and programs when the new school year starts in the fall. We can restore these education funds because the administration will use a portion of its State Stabilization Funds to close the budget gap we are facing between now and June 30.

All of this adds up to millions of dollars in real, new money for the state DOE, which is receiving more than $2 billion in state operating funds this year and more than $2 billion per year in FY 2010 and FY 2011. What is remarkable is that the governor has preserved a high level of state spending for public education during a period when the state is facing a $2 billion shortfall in revenues between now and June 30, 2011.

Despite having the largest segment of the state budget under its control, the DOE also failed to exercise prudent fiscal responsibility at a time when it was apparent difficult financial times were about to fall upon the state. We are reminded that last June the DOE spent more than a $1 million to send 600 people to a conference in Disney World. That amount of money could pay the salaries and benefits of 14 teachers for an entire year.

The decision to preserve state education spending and increase federal funds for public education shows a true commitment by the Lingle-Aiona administration to the students, teachers, parents and school administrators of the Department of Education. That is why the superintendent of education's claim that getting more money might cause her to close schools just doesn't add up.

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Georgina Kawamura is the state director of budget and finance.