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Friday, March 10, 2000

House moves for
smaller class sizes

99 new positions would cut
average class size in the early
grades to 20 students

By Crystal Kua


An improved economy could mean smaller class sizes in the early grades in Hawaii's public schools.

The House budget bill that passed yesterday includes a $2.6 million appropriation for 99 teaching positions to help reduce the average student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through second grade from 21 to 20 students in a class.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which lobbies each year for class-size reduction, said this is the first time the initiative has made it into the state operating budget at this stage of the game in the legislative session.

"This is a big milestone," HSTA spokeswoman Danielle Lum said. "It doesn't usually get in the budget. Usually we wait for the conference committee (toward the end of session) as to whether or not it gets in."

The student-teacher ratio had been at 20-to-1 when the Legislature in 1997 increased the number of students to 21, a move saving $3 million.

"It's been in times of a poor economy that they did that with regret," Lum said.

Lum said House Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine indicated to HSTA lobbyists that reducing class size was a priority of the House.

"The House has taken it as a very big issue for them, an important issue," Lum said. "Now, the Senate has the opportunity to take it."

Lum said she doesn't know what the Senate will do now, but having the amount in the House bill is "a good sign."

In another class-size issue, the House appropriated $5.2 million for the "every child counts" policy which includes special-education students in the count of general education classroom ratios.

"We recognize and are encouraged by the positive economic signs that have emerged over the past 12 months," Takamine said. "But from the state budget perspective, we are far from being out of the woods yet."

But the House increased the Department of Education's $1 billion budget by $21 million, which is less than the $31 million the department was seeking but more than the governor's executive budget of $14 million for the department.

The proposed Department of Education operating budget would include an additional $2.7 million to complete work on the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards, $500,000 for clerical support and $700,000 for the Youth Challenge Program.

The construction budget includes $45 million in general obligation bonds for the first of a three-year program to clean up school repair and maintenance programs and $3.4 million to repair or replace playground equipment.

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