Hawaii’s per-pupil spending cuts since the recession began have been the second-largest in the nation, Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi testified before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board on Monday.

True?

The short answer, according to a Civil Beat analysis, is yes. But that doesn’t tell the whole picture because Hawaii education funding is unique.

Despite the deep spending cuts, Hawaii still comes in 11th on the U.S. Census Bureau’s ranking of states by their overall per-pupil spending, trailing states like Alaska, Connecticut and Maryland.

Hawaii has cut its per-student state funding by $1,175 since 2008, just under California’s $1,414 in per-student cuts, according to an October report published by the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

California achieved the dubious distinction of having the largest state per-pupil cuts in the last four years, out of the 46 states studied. Hawaii came in second, having cut just $1 more per pupil than New Mexico. The dollar amounts are inflation-adjusted. (However, it should be noted that Hawaii doesn’t have local spending on schools, so the state cut is going to be higher because it’s a greater percentage of the total formula.)

If you break the cuts down by percentages, according to the report, Hawaii’s per-pupil state funding has dropped 22 percent since 2008, putting it among the four states with the largest percentage cuts, behind only Arizona and South Carolina at 24 percent and California at 23 percent.

Hawaii’s figures do not include increases in debt service and certain labor costs like benefits, which Hawaii Department of Education officials say they do not control.

Hawaii’s numbers are difficult to compare with those of other states because in most states local property taxes pay part of the cost of schools. That’s not the case in Hawaii. Education funds come from the state and federal governments here, which at least in part explains why the dollar figure for state level cuts is so high here compared with other states.

Bottom line: Matayoshi is correct that the overall state cut in per pupil funding is the second highest. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that other states may have seen cuts in their local funding that would make their figures higher than Hawaii’s.

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