Talk Story


Fixing education can
be our economic solution

DURING the primary election campaign for governor, the big issue was change. Are you for it or against it? Who can deliver it? What should change and what should be preserved?

Election 2002

The mainland economic boom passed Hawaii by while business activity remained practically stagnant here for the entire Cayetano administration. Despite our efforts to diversify the economy and stimulate new business development, the Forbes/Milken Best Places for Business list for 2002 ranked Honolulu 179th out of 200 U.S. cities -- just ahead of such rust-belt disaster areas as Ft. Wayne and Gary, Ind., and Flint, Mich.

When Inc. Magazine looked at the best places in the United States to start a business, Honolulu received the distinction of being the worst among "small metro areas" in business climate decline, dropping from third in 1993 to 105th in 2000.

The Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., issues a report card rating states' economic strengths in three areas: performance, business vitality and development capacity.

Hawaii's grades for 2001? Performance, D. Business vitality, F. Development capacity, F.

The CFED noted, "For the second year in a row, the state is the last in the nation in involuntary part-time employment and net migration and 49th in home ownership rates." In other words, compared to the rest of the country, more of us work part-time jobs because that's all we can get, more of us are bailing out and fewer of us can afford to own our own homes.

What's more, "the state ranks in the bottom three (48th-50th) in average teacher salary, K-12 expenditures, Small Business Investment Companies financing, ... energy costs, urban housing costs, ... private research and development and patents issued."

According to the report, "Hawaii may face difficult obstacles providing its residents and businesses with quality education, affordable housing, adequate infrastructure and access to innovation-based resources."

There are some bright spots. Thanks to TheBus, we're third in the nation in urban mass transit and we have the smallest shortage of health professionals. We're fourth in university research and development and first in efficient per capita energy consumption and resource recycling.

OUTSIDE forces, such as the Japanese economy and the dollar-yen exchange rate, affect Hawaii's tourism-driven economy more than most places. Likewise, the private sector has to take some responsibility, too.

However, public education is something state government controls. Despite holding the line on budget cuts, building schools and revitalizing the University of Hawaii, it hasn't gotten the job done. Hawaii students rank 39th in the nation in reading proficiency and 35th in math, according to CFED.

One candidate, Mazie Hirono, wants to "engage everyone" -- parents, teachers, the community, in education. She would continue to expand preschool programs and to work to retain "caring, competent and qualified" teachers. She wants to initiate character education classes and push the Department of Accounting and General Services to repair schools faster.

Hirono would audit the Department of Education and promises "to make changes based on the audit and discussions with the Board of Education, DOE and the community."

THE OTHER candidate, Linda Lingle, proposes breaking up the one-size-fits-all, single state school system and giving seven locally elected school boards power to make decisions.

She also endorses an audit of the DOE, but she would redirect 50 percent of the funds spent on its bureaucracy into the classrooms. She wants performance-based budgeting and statewide per-pupil funding.

Lingle enthusiastically backs alternatives such as home schools and charter schools and wants to get DAGS out of the school-repair business entirely.

It's up to voters to decide if they want real, systemic innovation and to remember that one definition of insanity is expecting change while continuing to do the same things.

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at:

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