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StarBulletin.com

Schools should tap into Hurricane Relief Fund


By

POSTED: Thursday, June 25, 2009

When insurance companies stopped writing policies following Hurricane Iniki's destruction in 1992, the state of Hawaii created a special fund to provide affordable coverage to homeowners as a precaution in case another disaster were to strike.

During eight years, starting in 1993, the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund collected fees from real estate transactions and other sources to offer state-backed insurance coverage. The fund, however, was discontinued in 2001 and became essentially obsolete after stability returned to the market and homeowners got coverage through regular homeowners' insurance policies.

Fortunately, Hawaii has so far been spared of another tragedy like Iniki — until now.

Today the state faces an unprecedented financial storm, one that is invisible to weather forecasters but painfully real to businesses and families who are faced with layoffs and pay cuts as a result of a $730 million state budget deficit.

At the eye of the storm are the state's public schools, its teachers and students, who stand to lose $468 million over the next two years. The impact of this shortfall to student learning, teacher's livelihoods — and ultimately, the future of our state — will be tremendous unless we finally tap the estimated $180 million Hurricane Relief Fund to prevent this developing educational catastrophe from making landfall.

It remains unclear what the devastation will look like, but school administrators already are predicting a chilling scenario: fewer afterschool tutors, a scaling back or elimination of sports, arts and music programs, crumbling classrooms and an outmigration of dedicated teachers unable to afford Hawaii's high living costs.

In summary, our schools will be unable to provide the adequate education we owe to our students, the ones we will depend on to steer our state back into prosperity. It is unacceptable to allow our children to slip through the cracks because of a fiscal crisis created by adults.

If a natural disaster were to occur, Hawaii homeowners would be covered by their insurers, and the federal government would also be able to step in to assist.

At the time lawmakers decided to end the Hurricane Relief Fund, there were calls to have the state refund the moneys to residents who contributed to it but never saw a return. Now is the time to use those funds and lessen the effects this man-made fiscal drought will have on our public schools.

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Janis Akuna, chairwoman of the Board of Education's Budget and Fiscal Accountability Committee, served as chairwoman of the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund from its inception in 1993 until it was discontinued in 2001.