Last year, the big education issues at the Hawaii Legislature were instructional time, school bullying and the appointed Board of Education.

This year, we’ll see encore debates about bullying and instructional time, along with a few debuts: charter school reform, student transportation and junior kindergarten.

We may also see a bill or two relating to Race to the Top reforms, although it’s not clear yet what aspects of education reform they would deal with.

Charter School Reform (Bill pending introduction): A charter school governance task force spent several months last summer and fall hammering out recommendations designed to increase accountability and streamline authority in the state’s charter school system.

Its recommendations came in the wake of several charter school scandals involving nepotism, messy books and potential ethics violations.

From those suggestions, Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda has crafted a 77-page omnibus bill to overhaul the entire system, along with a bill outlining the implementation plan and funds required for the transition. National experts earlier this month praised the recommendations, stating that they bring the state much closer in line with national best practices for charter school systems.

Student Transportation Funding: Last year, legislators gave the Department of Education an ultimatum: Provide a satisfactory explanation for why school bus costs have soared to more than double what they were six years ago and a solution to reducing them, or lose all state funding for busing regular students (money for transporting students with special needs would remain in place).

It’s not clear whether there will be a bill relating to student transportation, but there will at least be a lot of discussion and a line in the state budget dealing with it.

(Read up on the school bus controversy in our Taken For A Ride series.)

Instructional Time — House Bill 907 and House Bill 1352: Last year, the battle got bitter when lawmakers tried to find a way to begin implementing a law that progressively increases the number of hours per year that students must receive classroom instruction. The initial plan last session was to delay implementing it, because Hawaii Department of Education officials predicted it would cost $55 million — $55 million the Legislature felt it couldn’t afford.

But then lawmakers backpedaled on the delay, saying it didn’t meet the spirit of the instructional hours law, which was to reassure parents in the wake of Furlough Fridays that no matter what, their students would receive a minimum amount of instruction every year. Teachers got angry about the possibility they would work more without more pay, and ultimately lawmakers loosened the tight new requirements.

Up for debate this year is how we even define “instructional time,” and how the law would apply to schools that operate multiple instruction tracks year-round.

Bullying/Cyberbullying — House Bill 214, House Bill 690 and House Bill 704: Last year, Gov. Neil Aberctombie signed a law tightening requirements for schools to report bullying incidents. But both the House and Senate education chairs say the emotionally charged issue will probably be revisited this year, because Hawaii statewide anti-bullying laws would apply to both adults and students, on and off campus — and in the online world, where “cyber-bullying” incidents occur with growing frequency.

Junior Kindergarten — House Bill 11: The state is raising the eligible age for kindergarten enrollment, but needs to create a transition plan into a state-funded preschool program that effectively helps late-born children prepare for kindergarten.

House Bill 11 proposes a two-tiered kindergarten program for Hawaii beginning this coming fall, in which children who turn 5 years old after Aug. 1 and before Jan. 1 of the school may attend a public school junior kindergarten.

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