One of the first things James “Duke” Aiona says he’ll do if he’s elected governor of Hawaii is call for an independent audit of the education department’s performance and finances — something that hasn’t been done since 1973.

The Republican party’s leading gubernatorial candidate introduced Thursday his education policy agenda, which he said increases principals’ authority and responds to decades-old criticism of an education system lacking accountability.

Strangely, parts of his plan sounded a lot like the proposals of a possible Democratic general election opponent, former Congressman Neil Abercrombie. The other leading Democratic contender, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, hasn’t issued a policy statement on education.

Both Abercrombie and Aiona say that education is a central issue of the campaign. Both say that principals need more power. And while their approaches to the department of education are different, they both want to shift power to the schools. (These same themes emerged when three former Democratic governors created their own grassroots organizationfor education reform earlier this year.)

Aiona unveiled his education plan at his campaign headquarters. Abercrombie released his plan in April. Aiona’s plan includes restructuring the Hawaii Department of Education based on the audit results and on voters’ decision this November about whether they want to replace the current elected board with an appointed one.

Aiona said he wants to give principals more authority to hire and fire, and that he would encourage principals to be the “chief education officers,” or CEOs, of their schools. Abercrombie says he would start leadership academies to help principals become, you guessed it, “CEOs of their schools.”

As governor, Aiona said he would also:

  • Negotiate for performance evaluations of educators.

  • Expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programs in all schools within the first year.

  • Expand pre-kindergarten opportunities. This comes the same week that Gov. Linda Lingle, for whom Aiona is lieutenant governor, signed a bill ending a junior kindergarten program and establishing a council to find alternative solutions for early childhood education. 

  • Champion continued Race to the Top reforms.

  • Strive to give principals control of 90 cents out of every education dollar.

  • Advocate for the creation of magnet schools and expanded vocational education.

  • Support home schooling.

About the Author