Hawaii public schools that serve a high percentage of low-income kids are set to receive $56.5 million in federal aid for the next school year, a $2 million increase from last year, a lawmaker said Monday.

The Title I funding can help hire teachers, purchase new technology or offer more teacher training, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in a news release.

The money will be distributed to each of the four counties and is separate from CARES Act funds distributed to the Hawaii Department of Education to address problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It comes out of the annual federal appropriations bill and reflects a $2.3 million increase from last year.

Senator Brian Schatz Democrats Unity Breakfast 2018.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“As we rebuild our economy after this pandemic, we’ll keep working to make sure every kid can get a quality education in our state,” the Hawaii Democrat said.

Honolulu County will receive $33.7 million; Hawaii County $14.2 million; Maui County $6.4 million; and Kauai County, roughly $2.3 million.

Title I funding is the largest source of federal funding for K-12 schools in the country, according to Schatz’s office. It estimated that nearly 85,000 students in Hawaii attend a Title I school, where at least 47.2% of the student body comes from a low-income household.

As a result of COVID-19, the Hawaii Department of Education received $43 million in CARES funding last spring and a new round of federal relief aid of $183 million late last year.

Even with the agency’s projected savings of $123 million after Gov. David Ige lowered his target budget reduction to 2.5% from 10%, the DOE is still facing a $100.2 million deficit to its base budget over the next two fiscal years due to winnowed state funds.

Under the governor’s original 10% reduction of the DOE budget, the agency was projecting a loss of at least 1,300 school and complex-area jobs come June. Schools and complex areas are now retooling their financial plans under the revised budget.

At the last Board of Education meeting, state Superintendent Christina Kishimoto was directed by the finance and committee chairman to propose a reorganization plan of DOE offices, which she must present at the next board meeting in February.

In general, public schools have considerable leeway in utilizing Title I funds, with the core goal of trying to level the achievement gap for low-income and struggling students.

The DOE is enabling public schools to hire private tutors, using their Title I funds, to help students who are behind in academics. Separately, it has proposed spending $53 million of fresh CARES funds to hire private tutors for students two grade levels behind in English and math, a proposal that recently caused a stir among members of the state teacher’s union, which strongly advocates prioritizing federal funds to try to preserve teacher positions.

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