English learner programs and mathematics initiatives are also not currently funded.

Key pieces of the Hawaii Department of Education’s newly approved six-year strategic plan will be delayed or deferred due to a $43 million budget shortfall.

The cuts will be felt despite a potential last minute injection of $55 million in discretionary funds for the department from Gov. Josh Green. That measure is still awaiting his signature.

The full extent of the budget gap dominated the state Board of Education meeting Thursday.

The department is still assessing where to make the cuts, but did not make a representative available for comment.

The strategic plan, only approved in February, was designed to revamp the public school system’s curriculum, teacher recruitment strategies and to update facilities.

A variety of line items did not make the cut in the Legislature’s approved budget, including funding for parts of the weighted student formula — the department’s mechanism for funding schools — secondary mathematics initiatives and English learner programs.

Waipahu Elementary School portable classrooms.
Only 19% of the department’s capital improvement request ended up being approved in the budget. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

The added funds promised by the governor would come out of a discretionary fund that only applies to the 2023-24 fiscal year.

“We’re going to continue to push forward as best as we can,” said Brian Hallett, an assistant superintendent at the Office of Fiscal Services, in a presentation to the board.

Capital improvement projects likewise took a hit, with the Legislature approving only 19% of the department’s budget request.

Critical areas like project completion received less or no money at all.

An additional 117 capital improvement projects estimated to cost more than $300 million were only allocated about $195 million for fiscal years 2023-2025.

The department’s operations budget shortfall amounts to about $261 million over the next two fiscal years.

Outgoing board chairman Bruce Voss said he found the shortfall “puzzling and disappointing” and asked if the Legislature had given a reason for such a wide gap in funding.

According to department employees, no explanation was given, and the Legislature’s priorities are unclear regarding the portion of the $200 million discretionary fund allocated in the state budget bill. The governor indicated he would direct the $55 million to DOE, $25 million to UH and other monies to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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