Our teachers deserve the very best for the service they provide as mentors to our keiki. There is scarcely one among us who can’t think of a teacher who revolutionized our lives by showing us something about ourselves that made us smarter, stronger or more confident.
Sadly, unseen are the struggles many teachers face, whether it’s chronic vocal cord damage, relentless bouts of ear, nose and throat infections, or burnout from overwhelming job stress.
They aren’t paid enough for all they do, both in Hawaii and across the United States. According to the National Education Association, last year the average teacher salary in the islands was $56,561, while the national average was $59,660.
The few raises we give public school teachers can’t possibly keep up with inflation and our high cost of living. Although the statewide teachers union successfully negotiated a decent 13.6 percent raise for members in their 2017-2021 teacher contract, last year in Honolulu the cost of medical care went up 2 percent, food 3 percent and gasoline 10 percent.
Even if voters do approve the Nov. 6 constitutional amendment — and it passes legal muster — to raise certain taxes on certain property, it’s uncertain how much of that revenue would directly translate into better salaries and benefits for hard-working teachers.
Every legislative session, Hawaii taxpayers have been enlisted like the storied Little Dutch Boy, plugging fiscal holes in the state budget with a few digits of their income here, and a few more digits of their income there. The problem we face now is that everything is getting more expensive, and all our hands and fingers are already tied up. We desperately need a method other than taxation to pay for things we value as a collective public good.
Our public school teachers are superstars, and they should be paid like superstars.
A better way to immediately increase salaries would be to permit corporations and philanthropic individuals to sponsor teachers over and above their base salary, using an online referral network in exchange for a dollar-for-dollar state and/or county tax reduction.
This would accomplish two things. First, a company’s brand image or an individual donor’s reputation would be positively enhanced in ways that would likely enable them to seek higher profits or more lucrative opportunities. Second, this would immediately make Hawaii a magnet for generations of the most talented and energetic teachers in the competitive subjects we currently struggle to recruit for.
Already, a number of public services ranging from libraries to national parks are at least partly funded by private contributions.
Think about the possibilities. Teachers could pursue their passion and get paid well for educating our keiki. Classrooms and whole schools could also be sponsored, making our campuses modern, comfortable, and well-equipped with no shortage of new books, supplies and the kind of computing resources previously reserved for big universities.
Any one of us can already go to a website like Sponsored Tweets or Indiegogo and either sign up to be a promoter or pay a celebrity to promote a brand or idea on our behalf. Why should teaching be any different?
Already, a number of public services ranging from libraries to national parks are at least partly funded by private contributions. The question we must ask is why can’t we make it beneficial for more of our government to be voluntarily financed?
Civil servants on a limited basis occasionally attend conferences or educational events through private sponsorship that is approved either by a departmental head or a county council; why can’t teacher salaries be supplemented or sponsored by private entities? Also, if career politicians can receive donations for vain pursuits of higher office, why can’t teachers receive donations to teach our keiki?
While this proposal would increase funding for teachers or education, it could also reduce revenues for other government services through the dollar-for-dollar tax write-off incentive. That, however, does not have to be a deal-breaker since it might impel the Legislature to take another look at spending priorities.
This is also yet another reason why a constitutional convention in Hawaii would be beneficial, as it would allow us to re-evaluate how we raise revenues and what we spend them on.
The question of education and how we pay for it is one that should be opened up to the marketplace of ideas that can be found outside of the Legislature or the governor’s office.
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Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.