Schools must work to tap federal funds


POSTED: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The state has prevailed in federal court in fighting off a challenge to school Furlough Fridays, but the system is far from stable. The schools desperately need federal assistance that they are not likely to receive without changing direction.

Visiting Judge Wallace Tashima of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a move by attorneys in two lawsuits—one related to all students and the other to special education students—to sideline a teachers labor contract calling for classes to be canceled 17 days in the current school year and as many next year because of the financial crisis. Still, he said, “;I think frankly the plaintiffs are suffering irreparable harm.”;

The ruling follows blistering criticism by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warning that “;Hawaii's economic problems should not be creating an educational crisis for its children.”; Cutting the number of school days “;is a step in the wrong direction,”; he warned.

States have received more than $67 billion in federal stimulus and an additional $11.5 billion soon will become available to those deserving of it. State legislators have questioned the Lingle administration's decision to dedicate $35 million in federal stimulus money to specific education-related purposes other than eliminating seven furlough days.

Applications for upcoming federal grants will be judged on the basis of tougher academic standards, better ways to recruit and keep effective teachers, ways to track student performance and plans to turn around failing schools. Similar assessments are attached to a separate $4.35 billion competitive federal program titled “;Race to the Top.”;

Duncan's criticism is compounded by Hawaii's poor grades in a new report by the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Enterprise Institute. Hawaii was given D's in school management and technology, and it was one of only nine states that scored F in removing ineffective teachers. Ninety-six percent of principals said the Hawaii State Teachers Association has been a barrier to the removal of lousy teachers.

In a speech last week, President Barack Obama said schools must “;do a better job of rewarding outstanding teachers”; and “;a better job of moving bad teachers out of the classroom, once they've been given an opportunity to do it right.”;

As the nation's only statewide school system continues to suffer from shortage of funds, Hawaii will aggravate the problem in the months and years ahead by failing to make changes required by the Obama administration—and for the good of Hawaii's children.