Gov. David Ige’s education agenda, extracted from his campaign website, seems simple enough:

1) Allocate tax dollars to the Department of Education to implement early education, 2) appoint individuals to the Board of Education who have a stake in the system’s success, 3) reform DOE “top-down” bureaucracy so that schools and principals feel empowered to initiate innovation, 4) “increase funding that supports school-initiated, innovative approaches to education,” and 5) increase percentage of DOE’s budget that gets to schools through weighted student formula allocations from 58 percent to 75 percent.

Here are some thoughts on each:

Governor David Ige and wife Dawn wave after ige took the oath of office.  1 dec. 2014. photo Cory Lum

Gov. David Ige and his wife, former teacher and vice principal Dawn Ige, after he took the oath of office last week.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

• Increase funding for early childhood education: This can only be achieved through the Legislature. Luckily, Sen. Jill Tokuda, former Education Committee chair, is now chair of Ways and Means; hopefully, she will ensure that the DOE will have a sufficient increase in its budget allotment to fulfill the promises of early childhood education in Hawaii.

• Appointing BOE members: The Senate will also have to approve Ige’s incoming BOE appointments.

In 2011, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie was beginning his term, the elected BOE members voluntarily stepped down despite the fact that the Hawaii Supreme Court certified their election and terms of office. The elected BOE wanted to give the governor control and responsibility of public education, as the passage of the 2010 amendment to the state constitution intended.

Some have referred to First Lady Dawn Ige as the governor’s key advisor on education.

Ige should retain a few members of the sake of continuity. When Abercrombie appointed all new members four years ago, the transition was abrupt and progress was delayed. DOE was able to push back the delivery of a reliable data management system by two years.

Ige should give all prospective BOE members an open-book test that includes multiple-choice and essay responses. All the information needed to answer the questions correctly should be available to the public via the Hawaii DOE, BOE, state auditor and U.S. DOE websites.

One of the essay responses should require the applicants to examine a DOE recommendation, including supporting documents, and use outside resources (broadly defined) to assess, analyze then formulate a position on the recommendation with a list of follow-up questions. Finally, ask the applicant to map out the steps they see in getting the DOE from where it is today to where Ige wants it at the end of four years.

Some have referred to First Lady Dawn Ige as the governor’s key advisor on education. She is a former DOE teacher and vice-principal.

If she is already shaping public education in Hawaii, I would prefer she do so formally — with greater transparency. The governor should just appoint her to be chair of the BOE. Her MBA and business world beginnings should gain her credibility among those who feel bankers should lead public education.

Nepotism is not a problem here because the BOE is now 100 percent voluntary. Dawn Ige has already stopped collecting paychecks from the DOE; the Iges’ total household income may be less now as first family than when they were working multiple jobs two years ago.

Most importantly, BOE Chair Dawn Ige would reinforce the direct accountability between the governor and the DOE, which was why we switched to a governor-appointed board.

• Empower schools and principals: Recently when she was first lady-elect, Dawn Ige provided the welcome message at the inaugural School Empowerment Conference, held in the cafeteria of her old work site, Moanalua High School.

“34.5 percent of principals agree that they can express their concerns without fear of retaliation, [while] 65.5 percent of principals disagree and state that they are not able to express their concerns for fear of reprisal or retaliation.” — DOE survey

The Education Institute of Hawaii convened 300 public education stakeholders to officially launch their new reform: “Empowering schools and principals.” It is not a coincidence that “empowering schools and principals” is incorporated into the governor’s education agenda.

If they can all stay focused, the new governor, his new appointed BOE and the (new?) DOE superintendent can implement this reform on their own with no one else to blame if they do not achieve their benchmarks.

This may not merit the knee-jerk rejection by those who have reform fatigue, because it might be achieved by shifting perspectives and continuing to implement prior reforms.

The need may be summarized in this one data point presented by the April 2014 survey of DOE principals conducted by Education Institute of Hawaii Executive Director Darrel Galera:  “34.5 percent of principals agree that they can express their concerns without fear of retaliation, [while] 65.5 percent of principals disagree and state that they are not able to express their concerns for fear of reprisal or retaliation.”

Why does one out of three principals surveyed not feel this sense of fear and the other two-thirds do? Compare this to the common belief within and outside the DOE that the system cannot get rid of the bad apples; if this is the case, why would the good apples ever think they could be gotten rid of?

• Decentralize budget: One of the earlier reforms related to school and principal empowerment is the continuation of financial decentralization via Act 51’s weighted student formula, which is echoed in Ige’s education agenda with a specific goal of achieving 75 percent of the DOE budget allocation into the formula.

This may not merit the knee-jerk rejection by those who have reform fatigue, because it might be achieved by shifting perspectives and continuing to implement prior reforms.

The Committee on Weights is required by statute to make recommendations every odd-numbered year. In August 2013, the committee came up with its list of recommendations for the BOE to adopt and the DOE to implement.

It cited a report titled “Evaluation of Hawaii’s Weighted Student Formula” presented by the  American Institutes for Research a few months earlier; and its final recommendation stated: “The Department should seek additional funds in the amount of $135,000 for each of the 252 schools that receive WSF allocations. This increase would be allocated via the Base Funding factor in the WSF.”

It comes full circle: the Legislature mandates the DOE to convene the committee to make recommendations for the DOE, the BOE approves the recommendations, and the DOE requests the Legislature to increase its budget by $34 million to be distributed directly to schools.

Now the ball is back in the Legislature’s court to pass a budget that includes the final recommendation of the committee that it created. Then the governor can sign off on this increase and and come closer to achieving his 75 percent goal.

About the Author

  • Kim Coco Iwamoto
    Kim Coco Iwamoto was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006 and served until 2011. She also served on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board from 2009 to 2011 and the Career & Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council from 2007 to 2011. She was appointed to a four-year term on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2012.