State in middle
in U.S. per-pupil
school spending

The islands rank 25th among
the states and District of Columbia

By Lisa Asato

Hawaii falls just below average compared with other states in how much it spends per student in public schools, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.


The state's No. 25 ranking among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., did not come as a surprise to observers who said Hawaii typically falls in the middle of the pack.

But the number can be misleading, they said, as it does not take into consideration Hawaii's high cost of living.

"In the past when they did cost of living, we were dead last," said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Karen Ginoza, referring to a report by the American Federation of Teachers.

According to today's census report, Hawaii spent $6,487 per student in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2000 -- or $348 less than the national average of $6,835.

New Jersey spent the most at $10,283. Utah spent the least at $4,331.

In the previous year's report, Hawaii spent $6,082 per student and ranked 26th.

Hawaii's per-pupil spending has increased every year since 1991-92 when it spent $5,045, just above the national average of $5,001.

Mike Griffith, policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, said higher spending does not necessarily mean better results, and the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

"It doesn't come close to speaking to the quality of education," he said. "It's just raw numbers. Is it going for transportation? Sporting events? High school football teams? ... Some might be spending less but targeting it right."

Griffith said it was difficult to compare Hawaii with other states because Hawaii has a single statewide school district, a high cost of living and captive labor and student markets.

He also said the numbers can be deceptive because "all that money could be going to special education. A lot of states are struggling with ... how to find enough money to meet federal mandates."

Hawaii has been under a court mandate since 1994 to improve educational and mental health services for special-needs students.

Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the state's increasing per-pupil spending over the years was mostly due to rising teacher salaries and expanding special-education services.

But he said special-education funding "should not have any kind of unbalancing effect on where we rank among the states" because many states are in the same situation.

Because cost-of-living adjustments would further decrease Hawaii's ranking, Knudsen said the state's 25th ranking "is clearly where we do not want to be or need to be."

Knudsen said the department's $24 million in budget cuts for the next fiscal year will likely affect per-pupil spending.

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