Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie needs “an immediate resolution” granting him authority to appoint members to the board of education before he can move forward with other school reforms, he said in his State of the State speech Monday morning.

Education is the new governor’s top priority in stabilizing the state’s precarious affairs, he said. To support that claim, he announced that he included education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood in his first cabinet retreat last weekend. Former Gov. Linda Lingle‘s decision to exclude the superintendent from cabinet meetings has been a sore spot with education officials for the last several years.

Looking toward the future, the governor said he has already begun laying the groundwork to establish a Department of Early Childhood Education. At the higher education level, he emphasized the need for research and proposed a Hawaiian language university within the university.

Abercrombie is “totally committed” to the reforms promised in the state’s Race to the Top application submitted by Lingle’s administration, but said first he needs the ability to appoint the education board.

“I am already receiving applications and recommendations through the Governor’s website that will allow me to move quickly,” he said. “This is the clear will of Hawaii’s people. I am prepared to act now.”

He also promised to establish a department for early childhood education, which was a key component of his gubernatorial campaign last year.

“For our youngest children, my office has been working with private and public agencies and will be utilizing federal, state and private resources to develop a leadership position in the Governor’s office for early education,” he said Monday morning. “This person will coordinate efforts across departments and in the private sector as we lay the groundwork for the future.”

The Hawaiian language is critical to preserving the native Hawaiian culture, he said, briefly mentioning his 1986 role in lifting a ban on teaching in the Hawaiian language. He then recognized Punana Leo, the first student of Native Hawaiian ancestry to receive a Ph.D. in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization, and talked about establishing a Hawaiian language “university-within-a-university.”

“Language is a key element in ensuring that the Hawaiian culture remains strong and perseveres into the future for the benefit of all,” he said. “When our young children master language, they master themselves. When they master themselves, they can achieve anything.”

Abercrombie has high expectations for the role the UH System will play in Hawaii’s future, by contributing to the number of college graduates and the amount of research that helps contribute to industry.

“Research programs at the University will play a big part in our economic recovery by bringing external dollars into our State and building innovative industries. The University’s current research activity brings $450 million to the table. I will strongly support measures to increase that capacity.”

UH will increase the number of college graduates by 25 percent by 2015, he said — a promise made in the state’s Race to the Top application, that Civil Beat noted might be a little optimistic. Race to the Top called for an increase from 15 percent to 19 percent of full-time students completing their degrees in four years.

We’ll be able to start as early as this afternoon determining just how realistic Abercrombie’s education agenda is. The Senate Education Committee is holding its first hearing today on his favored proposal for appointing education board members.

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