Hawaii lawmakers want to carve out an exception in the state Ethics Code so public schools can continue raising money for nonprofit organizations — if it’s educational.
Teachers were advised in December to stop encouraging students from participating in the Macy’s “A Million Reasons to Believe” promotion because state employees aren’t allowed to use public resources for private business activities, which generally includes supporting or promoting charities.
Senate Bill 2423, up for a critical vote Thursday, would let schools and classes partner with nonprofits under certain circumstances.
Ethics Executive Director Les Kondo said he recognizes the positive intent, but thinks the extremely broad bill raises serious concerns and could create a slippery slope.
He questions how teachers would choose which charities to support and what would happen if the nonprofit’s mission is controversial.
Kondo told lawmakers they should take into account that the fundraising activities may create an environment where certain families may feel pressured to participate despite their limited financial resources or objection to the organization.
Senate Education Chair Jill Tokuda, who co-introduced the bill, said students benefit from working with charities because it fosters civic engagement and service learning.
The DOE strongly supports the bill because it develops character.
“School projects involving fundraising or charitable activities provide opportunities for youth to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real world situations,” Superintendent Kathryn Matiyoshi said in her testimony.
The five-member Ethics Commission debated the issue last week, revealing division among members.
Commissioner Ruth Tschumy said that as an educator, she is OK with the practice. She was frustrated that Kondo did not bring the Macy’s advisory opinion to the commissioners before disseminating it last year.
Commissioner David O’Neal didn’t see why the commission should even have an opinion on the bill. He said it’s not the commission’s role to try to legislate.
Kondo said it’s important for the commission to have a voice before the Legislature to make lawmakers aware of issues with a bill they may not have considered.
“There’s dominoes that you didn’t think about that start falling,” he said.
Commission Chair Leolani Abdul said the commission’s testimony can help prevent a bad law. She said efforts to carve out exemptions weaken the Ethics Code.
“We make people stop and look at the bigger picture,” she said.
The Hui for Excellence in Education, a coalition of more than 40 parent and community groups, said it’s understandable that schools need alternative revenue streams but lawmakers should consider the unintended consequences of the bill.
HEE Coalition Director Cheri Nakamura told lawmakers that more information about the background and purpose of the bill might be helpful so the group could take a position.