The Latest Cuts In Education Fail Hawaiians — And All Of Us - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Carolyn Michaels

Carolyn Michaels retired from the DOE after teaching high and middle school English in Hawaii’s public and private schools.

Joshua Michaels

Joshua Michaels is an attorney in Honolulu.


On Thursday night, the state Board of Education (BOE) approved a proposal to slash the Department of Education (DOE)’s operating budget by $119.5 million in order to stave off COVID-19 related deficits.

These cuts come “on top of an already recurring $100.2 million general fund reduction” and will be followed by “additional reductions ranging anywhere from 10% to 30%” that are soon to be directed by Governor David Ige.

According to the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Corey Rosenlee, these cuts will have severe consequences: roughly 1,000 staff positions gone and cuts to Hawaiian Studies, Hawaiian Immersion, Art, Music, P.E. and library programs.

And if layoffs, panicked families and swelling class sizes aren’t scary enough, the DOE also warned that $30.7 million spent to support annual pay increases this year for special education teachers and Hawaiian language immersion teachers may not be sustainable next year.

Definitely bad news for the holidays.

Where did that extra $30.7 million first come from? Almost exactly a year ago, the BOE approved the funding — an extra $10,000 for special education teachers and $8,000 for Hawaiian language immersion teachers — to help fill badly needed positions.

In July, nearly four months into the COVID crisis, the BOE doubled down on its commitment and agreed to keep the salary boost intact. Rosenlee called the pay program a remarkable success resulting in “the lowest amount of vacancies we’ve had in a long time.” He now tells us that the future of the funding is unclear.

Hokulea sails offshore Waikiki on her way to Magic Island.
Hokulea sailing off Waikiki. “The story of the Hawaiian people is still being written,” note the authors. “Like all great stories, it must be taught to the next generation.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In tough economic times, education budgets are typically the first targets of austerity, forcing teachers and other low-paid public servants to take pay cuts in the name of belt-tightening, while school districts strip away enriching, vital classes like art, music and physical education in favor of cheaper alternatives and more standardized testing.

The 2009 Furlough Fridays debacle should have taught us a lesson about the deleterious effects of taking big, machete-style hacks to our public schools’ piggybanks. And from the 1994 Felix consent decree to the currently pending class-action lawsuit over student accommodations during the stay-at-home order, the shortcomings of Hawaii’s special education system have been  well-documented in recent years.

But these new cuts to Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian Immersion would cause an entirely different kind of damage — not just to students in immersion schools, not just to kanaka maoli, but to all of us living here who care about the future of this archipelago.

For kamaaina haole like us, who are constantly explaining to friends and family on the continent that “just because we’re from Hawaii doesn’t make us Hawaiian,” this is a no-brainer.

As the saying goes, there is no Hawaii without Hawaiians. That is why Hawaiian is one of two official languages in the state Constitution (art. X, § 4) — the same Constitution that obligates the state to “promote the study of Hawaiian culture, history, and language” (art. XV, § 4).

If our public schools are not working toward a widespread and robust understanding of that culture, history and language, something is deeply wrong.

A school mural in Hana. The DOE recently announced that promised raises for Hawaiian language immersion teachers may not materialize. April Estrellon/Civil Beat

Moreover, the Board of Education seems to agree! BOE Policy E-105 requires the DOE to provide a comprehensive and holistic program to inspire and meet the needs, interests and abilities of all students.

BOE Policy 105-7 states that “appropriate support for and implementation of Hawaiian education will positively impact the educational outcomes of all students in preparation for college, career and community success.”

Even in the BOE bylaws, there is a  code of conduct in which the Board’s members pledge themselves to be “guided by the spirit of ALOHA.” The all-caps ALOHA doubles as an acrostic design based on five Hawaiian words:

  • A, Akahai (kindness)
  • L, Lokahi (unity)
  • O, Oluolu (agreeableness)
  • H, Haahaa (humility)
  • A, Ahonui (patience)

The DOE budget definitely does not match the spirit of these words and makes the Board’s use of Olelo Hawaii look about as authentic as Aloha Poke Co.

Life in Hawaii today — our society, our customs, our challenges, our opportunities — was not created in a vacuum. From the original Pacific navigators to Nainoa Thompson and the Hokulea, from missionary suppression to the Hawaiian Renaissance, from Kealakekua Bay to Pearl Harbor to Kahoolawe to Mauna Kea, and from overthrow to annexation to apology to sovereignty, the story of the Hawaiian people is still being written. Like all great stories, it must be taught to the next generation.

We can’t cut our way to a healthy future or to a prosperous one. We must find a different way forward.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Authors

Carolyn Michaels

Carolyn Michaels retired from the DOE after teaching high and middle school English in Hawaii’s public and private schools.

Joshua Michaels

Joshua Michaels is an attorney in Honolulu.


Latest Comments (0)

Not to sound sarcastic but how does learning a barely used language benefit a person trying to get an education to support themselves and their future families?Its almost like those college students who take up art history or some abstract degree, hoping it will result in a good paying job.In times of limited funds shouldn't it be funneled to where we have the most benefit per dollar spent?Just some food for thought..........

jaytee777 · 1 year ago

In a way, this act of congress, of the many, is a good indicator for Hawaiians to know exactly where to place their trust. It should create the momentum needed to mobilize a Liberation Movement. Congressional liability in the seizure and usufructory of the Hawaiian Islands as well as the intervention and invasion causes international ramifications of severe consequence and financial liability. Not to mention the Hawaiian people. Perhaps repackage all domestically legislated or once legislated aid into the reparations duly owed the Hawaiian nation and kingdom. Now is the time to stand with our Queen, onipa'a!

RighteousConcepts · 1 year ago

Might be best to dissolve OHA and direct their share of the ceded land revenue back to education.  Then ensure everyone’s contribution to today’s society is actively taught in our schools.

Harvey · 1 year ago

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