After postponing making a decision last Friday, a House committee amended and passed two measures that would use taxes to provide more funding for public schools in Hawaii.

The measures are part of the Hawaii State Teachers Union proposal to have the Legislature add a question on the 2018 ballot asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would establish a surcharge on residential investment properties and visitor accommodations.

House Bill 180 and House Bill 182 were introduced by Rep. Scott Saiki. One would establish the surcharge and create a special state fund for the collected monies, and the other would add language to the state Constitution allowing the Legislature to establish taxes on such properties in order to “fund a quality public education for all of Hawaii’s children.”

HSTA teachers and supporters cheer as union leader Gary Gill rallies support after hundreds gathered at the Capitol in February 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Very happy it’s moving forward,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee after Monday’s hearing. “This is an essential bill for trying to improve education for children. And we feel this is the best way to try to give quality education for our children, and that’s what we’re going to continue to fight for.”

Passage of the two measures by the House Education Committee comes three days after the Senate Education Committee passed similar bills.

Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the House committee, said on Friday that the group wanted to postpone decision making because members had concerns about how the constitutional amendment would define “quality” education.

During Friday’s hearing, Rep. Takashi Ohno said he had concerns about that language because everyone has a different definition of what “quality” is and that could open up the state to lawsuits.

So, all references to “quality” were removed from both bills during Monday’s hearing. This included a section in HB 180 that said that collected monies would be used to recruit and retain teachers, reduce class sizes, improve special education staffing and resources and offer additional instruction in career and technical education and Hawaiian and Polynesian studies and the arts.

“It’s very limiting,” Takumi said on Monday.

Instead, HB 180 will merely say that the monies will be used to develop and deliver instructional services to students in accordance with statewide educational policy, he said.

And despite passing HB 182, Takumi said it may have a fatal flaw in its title – the proposed constitutional amendments should relate to Article 8, not Article 7. So, he’s asking for a formal opinion from the Attorney General’s office, and once he receives it, he’ll forward it on to the House Judiciary Committee, where both bills will head next as House Drafts.

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