State of Hawaii

Felix joint panel
still wants to hear
education expert

The committee tried to subpoena
her last year but was blocked

By Crystal Kua

The leaders of the committee examining state spending to comply with the Felix consent decree say a new report by a special-education expert reaffirms their position that she should appear before their panel.

"I think with this document, it's giving us a very good starting point on what she thought of the (consent decree)," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), co-chairwoman of the Joint Senate-House Investigative Committee.

The report by Judith Schrag, the former director of the U.S. Department of Education's special-education programs, deems the state in "relative compliance" with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and calls the state's progress "commendable." "I think it's going to be an interesting testimony on how she arrived at her conclusions," Hanabusa said.

The committee issued a subpoena last year for Schrag to testify, but that subpoena was blocked by U.S. District Judge David Ezra. The committee then filed legal actions, including a federal lawsuit, to enforce its subpoena. The committee also unsuccessfully tried to get Ezra removed from presiding over the subpoena issue. Lawyers for Schrag and the committee are negotiating her appearance, and committee Co-chairman Rep. Scott Saiki said he is pretty confident a deal can be reached.

In the meantime, the final compliance status report sent to the court this week by court-appointed Felix monitor Ivor Groves included the first document written by Schrag that the committee has seen. It is providing new information on what Schrag may know, especially given "that she has been here from the get-go and that she knows what's going on in Hawaii," Hanabusa said.

The report also shows that Schrag is one of the few people with knowledge of the evolution of the consent decree over the years, said Hanabusa and Saiki.

"We would like to question her on how benchmarks were developed and the rationale behind the benchmarks," Saiki (D, McCully) said.

The information is important, they said, because the Legislature has been requested to fund resources set out in those benchmarks. The annual budget is now $340 million.

Eight pages of the report cover Schrag's background, and both lawmakers say the information bolsters the committee's contention that some of the work she did was as a private consultant and not a court-appointed member of a panel shielded by the court.

"She had a significant role as a private consultant, and that type of work should be subject to questioning," Saiki said.

Hawaii's special-education system has been under federal court oversight since 1994 for not providing appropriate mental health and educational services to special-needs children.

State of Hawaii

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