Finally, some good news for Hawaii children: Furlough Fridays are a thing of the past. They will not be back for the 2010 school year.

“The bottom line is that Furlough Fridays are over,” announced Gov. Linda Lingle in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Applause and sighs of relief echoed through the chamber.

She said a group of determined parents motivated her to solve the problem before this school year ends Wednesday. May 14 was the last furlough day. A group of bankers, she said, were the catalyst for finding a solution, which she presented in four parts:

  1. Lingle will release $57.2 million from the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund, as she stated last month. This money will be dedicated to restoring instruction on 11 of the 17 scheduled furlough days for next year.

  2. She will use $2.2 million from what remains of $35 million the state received in federal recovery funds to restore instruction in charter schools.

  3. Teachers are going to give up planning time in order to restore teaching hours on the remaining six scheduled furlough days.

  4. A group of major Hawaii banks, including First Hawaiian Bank, have agreed to open a $10 million line of interest-free credit for the state, to be used for schools when necessary for maintaining a full school year.

The plan would have been impossible, Lingle said, if it weren’t for the banks taking initiative in offering their creative solution. First Hawaiian Bank President and CEO Don Horner spoke at the press conference on behalf of the banks.

Lingle said she originally intended the $57.2 million to restore teaching days for both public and charter schools. Meetings last week with parents and educators persuaded her that she should allocate relief for the charter schools from a separate fund in order to ensure they got their fair share, she said.

Interim schools superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi thanked the Hawaii Department of Education staff for persevering through the difficult year and said the resolution makes it possible to look forward now to things like the department’s Race to The Top application, which will be submitted probably by the end of this week.

“I hope the lasting effect of this furlough will be a sustained interest and energy in changing and reforming education,” she said.

Moments after the governor’s press conference ended, Jo Curran, a member of parent organization Hawaii Education Matters, summed up the occasion: everyone who had been looking for a way past Furlough Fridays had finally found it. She had attended last week’s meeting but didn’t know a conclusion had been reached to end furloughs until today.

“Linda Smith from the governor’s office called to tell me about the press conference, and I asked her if I needed to bring Kleenex or champagne,” Curran said.

She said one silver lining to the cloud of Furlough Fridays has been that it brought into the mainstream public dialog an issue of great concern to the organization though: parental involvement.

Do you think the governor and education leaders have done enough to prevent Furlough Fridays from happening again in the future? Share your thoughts in our discussion.

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