Senate panel OKs
textbook fees

The measure would allow
schools to charge up to
$20 a year

Two bills designed to get more and newer textbooks into Hawaii's public schools cleared their first hurdle at the Legislature yesterday, including one that allows schools to charge students a textbook fee of up to $20 a year.

The Senate Education Committee voted 4-1 to advance Senate Bill 2054, which allows each school to decide whether to impose the fee. It exempts students whose family income is low enough to qualify them for subsidized lunch.

The chronic shortage of textbooks in Hawaii's public schools prompted committee Chairman Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) and colleagues to sponsor that bill, along with one appropriating $1.8 million to buy more new textbooks and ensure there are enough textbooks for every student.

Students at some schools have to share textbooks and cannot bring them home to study because there are not enough to go around. In other cases, high school texts are older than the students who use them.

"If the schools need help and we're not going to raise taxes, we have to give them this option" of imposing a fee, Sakamoto said. The bill would not take effect until the 2005-2006 school year.

Currently, public school students are asked to provide an array of supplies at the start of the school year, from pens to paper towels, along with fees for co-curricular activities and items such as yearbooks. The idea of also charging fees for textbooks proved too much for Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua).

"Public school is supposed to be free," Hogue said after casting the lone dissenting vote. "The parents have already paid their hard-earned tax dollars. They shouldn't be charged fees on top of that."

So far, the fee bill has not sparked much public debate. Only two pieces of testimony were submitted on it at last week's hearing. Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said she supported its intent but had some reservations. Hawaii State Teachers Association President Roger Takabayashi also supported the intent of the bill.

They both strongly supported the other bill, Senate Bill 2171, setting aside $1.8 million for textbook purchases. That bill passed the committee yesterday on a 5-0 vote. Both Senate bills now go to the Ways and Means Committee.

"I think it's an important step that the Legislature recognizes that we do whatever we can to get textbooks into the classrooms," Hogue said.

Sakamoto said the bill, as amended, gives schools an incentive to ensure that their curriculum builds sequentially from year to year so students get the most out of their time in the classroom.

"Everyone recognizes the need for textbooks and also recognizes that our curriculum needs to be aligned to be most effective," Sakamoto said. "This would provide more money to schools based on their curriculum being aligned."

A companion bill to purchase more textbooks also cleared the House Education Committee yesterday, although the dollar amount was reduced to a token $1 for discussion purposes.

The committee, however, deferred action on four constitutional amendment bills, including Gov. Linda Lingle's bill to establish seven local school boards.

Nearly 100 people -- both for and against that bill -- crowded the room to witness the decision-making. Among them was the governor, who said she attended because "I want them and the public to understand how important I think education is."

But House Education Chairman Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades) said questions had been raised about all four bills that need to be answered.

"I don't think we want to pass out flawed bills," he said.


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