Alia Wong – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Wed, 24 Apr 2019 10:01:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Statewide Measures: Voters Solidly Reject Money for Private Preschools https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/11/statewide-ballot-measures-voters-reject-public-money-for-private-preschools/ Wed, 05 Nov 2014 05:17:57 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1057303 For now, it looks like the state won’t be able to tap into private providers if it wants to develop a comprehensive preschool system accessible to all of the state’s 17,500 4-year-olds. Hawaii voters statewide have turned down a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would have permitted the state to spend public money on private preschools. Question No. 4 […]

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For now, it looks like the state won’t be able to tap into private providers if it wants to develop a comprehensive preschool system accessible to all of the state’s 17,500 4-year-olds.

Hawaii voters statewide have turned down a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would have permitted the state to spend public money on private preschools. Question No. 4 — this year’s most controversial state ballot initiative — lost 52 percent to 44 percent.

But three of the four counties actually voted “yes” on the amendment. The City and County of Honolulu ended up swaying the statewide vote, with 55 percent of people voting against the measure, and 41 percent of people voting in favor of it. Oahu also has the highest concentration of existing preschool providers in the state.

Five percent of ballots statewide were left blank, and blank ballots count as “no” votes.

Voters also rejected a hike in the retirement age for judges but approved making the names of judicial nominees public and public revenue bonds for agriculture and dam projects.

5-year-old Aliiokekai Keawe-Kekoa plays with brother, 3-year-old Lucan Keawe-Kekoa while mom, Cassandra Kekoa casts her vote at Nanaikapono Elementary School located at 89-153 Mano Avenue in Waianae, Hawaii.  4 November 2014. photography by Cory Lum

5-year-old Aliiokekai Keawe-Kekoa went along with his mom, Cassandra Kekoa, to vote at Nanaikapono Elementary School

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In Hawaii, where four out of 10 kids enter kindergarten without any prior education, 96 percent of preschool providers are private. The amendment would’ve allowed the state to contract with the private providers, including faith-based programs, subsidizing their tuition and theoretically making them more affordable for more families. Preschool in Hawaii costs more than $8,000 a year on average.

The ballot initiative’s failure means that, should the Legislature opt to further develop a state-funded preschool system, it would likely have to be entirely operated through the Department of Education and the existing small-scale subsidy programs earmarked for low-income families. It also means that Hawaii is still the only state to constitutionally prohibit the public funding of private preschools. Forty states already have public-private preschool systems.

“We’re disappointed, but we knew that Oahu was the gut of the vote, and we tried our best,” said Jacce Mikulanec of Good Beginnings Alliance, which spearheaded the campaign in favor of the initiative. “At the end of the day … it wasn’t quite enough, but we’re excited to get back on the horse and make sure we get more early-education support.”

“The areas where this measure would’ve helped the most, those are the areas that are underserved, more rural, more in need,” Mikulanec continued, adding that Good Beginnings Alliance won’t give up on efforts to develop a public preschool system involving private providers. “We’ll now double our efforts to work with the tools that we have.”

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which staunchly opposes amending the constitution for preschool, said the results demonstrate that the ballot initiative was ill-conceived.

“We came a long way,” HSTA President Wil Okabe told Civil Beat, early in the evening Election Day. “We were able to generate a lot of concern with family and friends … It really comes down to values and grassroots campaigning.”

Meanwhile, voters were leaning heavily against a proposal that would amend the constitution to raise the mandatory retirement age for judges and justices from 70 to 80. The amendment lost, 73 percent to 22 percent. Five percent of ballots were left blank.

But voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment requiring the state to release the names of nominees for judges and justices. The measure won 82 percent to 11 percent, with 7 percent of ballots left blank. The results suggest that voters favor transparency over confidentiality.

And voters also approved the other two constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot:

• Amendment 2, which allows the use of special purpose revenue bonds for agricultural projects. (The Ulupono Initiative, which was cofounded by Civil Beat publisher Pierre Omidyar, donated $500,000 to the initiative.) The amendment squeaked by, 50 percent versus 41 percent, with 9 percent of ballots left blank.

• Amendment 5, which allows the use of special purpose revenue bonds to improve dams and reservoirs, passed 63 percent to 29 percent. Eight percent of ballots were left blank.

Future of Preschool

Research suggests that a preschool education can significantly improve the chance that a child will be successful later in life — particularly if that child is poor or at-risk. The majority of a brain’s development happens before age 5.

Advocates on either side of the issue, from early-learning nonprofits to prominent business groups, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the outcome of Question No. 4. Proponents said the amendment would offer the most cost-effective and expeditious way to open up preschool seats to more youngsters; opponents said it would benefit children of means while hurting those who are less fortunate.

All the campaigns premised their arguments on the value of early-childhood education and the need to make preschool more accessible to all families, regardless of their ability to pay.

Good Beginnings Alliance’s “Yes on 4” campaign raised nearly $1 million from organizations ranging from Kamehameha Schools to Hawaiian Electric Co. to promote the initiative through TV ads and other media efforts. The Omidyar Family Trust, which is affiliated with Civil Beat publisher Pierre Omidyar, donated $350,000 to the “Yes on 4” campaign, too.

But it seems that key opponents — including the HSTA and its national affiliate, the National Education Association — succeeded in their media initiative arguing that the measure was ill-advised and destined to exacerbate economic inequalities. The NEA gave the HSTA’s campaign at least $275,000, according to its most recently available Campaign Spending Commission filings.

Over the election season, many voters became increasingly convinced that amending the constitution was the wrong route to expanding access to preschool.

A September Civil Beat poll found that 45 percent of voters were against the amendment, while 40 percent supported it. One month later, another Civil Beat poll suggested that the margin had widened substantially, with 50 percent opposing the amendment and 34 percent supporting it.

Many of the state’s existing preschools are faith-based and selective in admissions. Advocates of Question No. 4 insist that the amendment would preempt private providers from discriminatory practices, but opponents doubt the feasibility of that promise.

Now it appears as though the state will be limited to the other options it has in place for the more than 7,000 kids who miss out on preschool annually, and some of them are tenuous.

That includes a one-year, $3 million  program, implemented this fall, to pilot prekindergarten seats for roughly 300 low-income children at 18 DOE campuses statewide. It also includes a $6 million Department of Human Services program in which the state gives preschool subsidies to low-income families. The DHS program is serving a little more than 1,000 children this year.

What made universal preschool a particularly urgent issue this year, according to some advocates, was a change in the kindergarten cutoff age that went into effect this August. The new policy bars thousands of kids who would’ve previously been allowed to enroll in kindergarten from the public school system each year because they were born after July 31. This year, roughly 5,800 kids were blocked from kindergarten.

The DHS and DOE programs serve a small percentage of these children.

Some educators criticized the Legislature for changing the cutoff age before having an alternative, viable prekindergarten option in place.

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Preschool Measure: Big Spending by Just a Few Groups https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/preschool-measure-big-spending-by-just-a-few-groups/ Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:05:57 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1055873 Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to influence the outcome of Question No. 4 — the ballot initiative that proposes a constitutional amendment to allow the public funding of private preschools. But the bulk of that money is coming from just a few prominent organizations and corporations, according to reports recently filed with the Hawaii Campaign Spending […]

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Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to influence the outcome of Question No. 4 — the ballot initiative that proposes a constitutional amendment to allow the public funding of private preschools.

But the bulk of that money is coming from just a few prominent organizations and corporations, according to reports recently filed with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

For the Future of Our Keiki, a newly formed ad-hoc political committee that’s connected to the Hawaii State Teachers Association and opposes the ballot initiative, reports just one donor: the union’s national affiliate, the National Education Association. (The HSTA had already spent an additional $142,000 on a separate campaign earlier in the election season but had to terminate the ad because of a technicality in campaign spending regulations.)

preschool ballot commercials composite

For the Future of Our Keiki wants you to vote “no” on Question No. 4, while Good Beginnings Alliance wants you to vote “yes.”

For the Future of Our Keiki/Good Beginnings Alliance

The NEA on Oct. 16 gave For the Future of Our Keiki $275,000, nearly half of which had been spent on radio and TV ad buys as of Oct. 20. The commercials argue that the constitutional amendment leaves too many unanswered questions.

Meanwhile, Good Beginnings Alliance’s massive campaign in support of the amendment had as of Oct. 20 raised about $887,000 — virtually all of which has come from big-money organizations such as Kamehameha Schools, First Insurance Co., Hawaiian Electric and the Omidyar Family Trust. (The trust is affiliated with Civil Beat founder and publisher Pierre Omidyar.)

Good Beginnings Alliance spent roughly three-fourths of that money on media and other public relations expenditures, much of it on TV ads. The ads argue that the amendment is a “Yes Brainer.”

The amendment would allow the state to allocate public funds to private preschool programs, a practice Hawaii’s Constitution currently prohibits. In Hawaii, which is the only state to constitutionally prohibit the practice, 96 percent of existing preschools are private.

It would allow the state to contract with private providers and subsidize their operations with public dollars, theoretically making attendance more affordable for families with less means. It’s a key component of the public-private model envisioned by outgoing Gov. Neil Abercrombie: a “mixed-delivery” system in which the state funds some Department of Education pre-kindergarten classrooms, provides child-care vouchers for certain low-income families and, should the amendment pass, subsidizes private private preschool for the remaining 4-year-olds.

There are about 17,500 4-year-olds in the state in any given year, about 7,000 of whom don’t attend preschool. Preschool in Hawaii costs about $8,000 a year on average. 

Lawmakers last session set aside $6 million to fund additional preschool subsidies this year for the low-income, late-born children who were barred from kindergarten because of a change to the cutoff age. And this year the state has $3 million to pilot a pre-kindergarten program at 18 public schools serving about 300 low-income children.

Until that $3 million was approved, Hawaii was one of just 10 states without a public preschool program.

But Civil Beat’s newest poll suggests that Hawaii voters don’t buy the argument that the constitutional amendment is the best way to further expanding preschool opportunities in the state. Just 34 percent of voters who participated in the poll said they’re voting “yes” on the ballot question, while 50 percent said they’re voting “no.” Nine percent of respondents said they’re unsure.

The Ads

The Good Beginnings Alliance campaign aims to convince voters that the measure is key to enhancing access to early education in a state where nearly half of all kids miss out on quality pre-kindergarten schooling.

It’s focused its media campaign on raising awareness about the value of early education. Each of the alliance’s four 30-second commercials — including one featuring former Kamehameha Schools CEO Dee Jay Mailer and one featuring Chamber of Commerce Hawaii CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara — include the same key points:

  • That the vast majority of the brain develops before age 5 (which it does
  • That kids who attend preschool do better than those who don’t  (which, research suggests, is generally true) 
  • That nearly half of Hawaii’s children can’t attend preschool (statewide, about 42 percent of children enter kindergarten having never attended preschool)
  • That the constitutional amendment would create more preschool opportunities for those who can’t afford it otherwise  

For the Future of Our Keiki’s 30-second commercial, on the other hand, attacks the feasibility of that last promise, stressing there’s no guarantee that the amendment will lead to better access. The ad asks three questions:

  • How will it work?
  • How will it be funded?
  • How much will it cost?

“Until there are clear answers to basic questions that ensure fairness and accessibility to preschool for all keiki, vote ‘no’ on public funds for private preschools, ” the narrator says.

A Murky Future

But Good Beginnings Alliance says the uncertainty surrounding the preschool system’s preschool is exactly why voters should give the constitutional amendment a chance.

“Right now the responsibility of preschool falls on families or philanthropy,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance, the children’s advocacy organization that has spearheaded the “Yes on 4” initiative. “The state doesn’t have any skin in the game.”

“We have a two-tiered system right now,” she continued. “A vote no is a vote to perpetuate that system.”

yes on 4 preschool commercial

One of the ‘Yes on 4’ commercials, titled “Teacher.”

Good Beginnings Alliance — Children's Action Network

The amendment would only create a mechanism that would allow the Legislature to set up a public-private preschool system — not the system itself. That’s up to the Legislature. 

“There’s no guarantee,” Zysman said. “In being truthful (the amendment) gets punted back to Legislature and the incoming administration. But if there’s a no vote, there’s absolutely no change, no discussion to be had.”

Still, the murkiness surrounding the would-be system has many people questioning whether the measure. 

“There are concerns about what the private sector will or will not do,” said Gale Flynn, who formerly served as director of preschool efforts for Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education and doesn’t have a position on the amendment. “The private sector caters to the people who can afford to pay. It’s a business — you cater to your market that’s going to be able to cover your costs.”

Flynn said the state would have to make a concerted effort to ensure equal access, proper training for preschool providers unaccustomed to serving lower-income and special-needs populations, and consistent monitoring of quality and compliance.

“The state can’t just go and get a contract out there,” Flynn said. “If it doesn’t put in the additional resources to ensure equal access — that’s my biggest concern.”

The Private Sector and Public Education

Some educators fear the amendment is a bandaid solution that won’t solve the state’s greatest struggles with early education.

“It it passes it gives the perception that we have a system in place, and it gives the perception that the system is going to be founded on privatization,” said Lyla Berg, a former state representative who served as vice chairwoman of the Education Committee and helped shepherd early education legislation in 2009 that aimed to build on existing public school services. “It’s not bringing our state into positive motion. We’re just moving chairs around.”

There are also questions about access for special-needs children. 

If the amendment were passed, the state could contract with private preschools as long as those preschools don’t discriminate based on race, religion, sex or ancestry. The amendment, however, doesn’t specify whether those preschools would be allowed to discriminate against special-needs students.

The vast majority of special-needs preschoolers in Hawaii currently attend public DOE programs rather than private ones, according to Flynn. 

“Private providers may find some excuse as to why they can’t provide the special education services,” Flynn said. “It’s much more difficult to monitor that.”

No on 4 preschool children

For the Future of Our Keiki’s “No Brainer” commercial.

For the Future of Our Keiki

Flynn also said she’s concerned that the curricula taught by faith-based preschools could have “religious overtones.” She said the state would need to closely monitor the private sector to ensure providers abide by the contract provisions.

And it’s unclear whether less-conventional preschool providers, such as family-child interaction programs in which family members go to class with their children, would be allowed to participate in the state program. These programs tend to serve at-risk populations, Native Hawaiians and the homeless

The supplementary budget bill passed by the 2014 Legislature included $3 million to pilot the small-scale prekindergarten program on DOE campuses. But the legislation explicitly banned that money from being used for family-child interaction programs — an indication that lawmakers would be disinclined from including such programs in a mixed-delivery system. 

Danny Goya, who runs Ka Paalana, a family-child interaction learning program geared for homeless families, said he hopes the Legislature would include such programs should the amendment pass. 

“But it’s bigger than us,” said Goya, who supports the amendment even if it’s designed to accommodate center-based preschools. “It’s more than just about FCILs — it’s about the general need for high-quality early education for our 4-year-olds.”

“The goal really was to provide accessibility to quality early learning programs and the target audience was to be those with a certain income who would generally not be able to go into preschool.”

Kanoe Naone, executive director of INPEACE, which also provides family-interaction programs, agreed with Goya.

“Kids are getting services, and that’s what we care about — just trying to meet the needs of the community,” she said, adding that she initially doubted the need for a constitutional amendment in the first place because some early education providers already do get state funding. “At this point, it basically means that we have to have a ConAm to ever have an opportunity to expand access.”

Naone also said she thinks there’s a great misperception in the community that the amendment would open up funding for private, for-profit preschools. While the vast majority of preschools in Hawaii are private, all but one are nonprofit, she said.

“A lot of people don’t understand what (the amendment) is and don’t have the time to delve deeply into what it actually means,” Naone said. “Then, if you look at that tendency, the easiest thing to do is not to do anything, just not vote on it.”

The Real Cost

Opponents of the amendment doubt that the mixed-delivery system would truly cut costs for the neediest of children, while proponents stress how much more cost-effective a public-private model would be.

Existing preschools in the state vary greatly in quality and cost. Corey Rosenlee, a teacher at Campbell High School who’s running to replace Wil Okabe as HSTA president, says that even with the public subsidies the most expensive, high-quality preschools would still be cost-prohibitive to lower-income children because of how pricey they are. Some preschools in Hawaii cost as much as $15,000 a year, he said. 

But others point out that private preschools already have the facilities, eliminating the time and money that would have to go into setting up a public program. Good Beginnings Alliance says a public-private preschool system would cost the state $50 million a year and that a program run entirely by the DOE could cost more than $125 million a year.

The numbers, however, are hard to vet without anything concrete in place.

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Teachers Blast TIME Mag for Cover Portraying Them as ‘Rotten Apples’ https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/teachers-blast-time-mag-for-cover-portraying-them-as-rotten-apples/ Thu, 30 Oct 2014 01:23:44 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1056544 The cover of this week’s TIME Magazine issue features a photo of an apple that’s about to be smashed by a gavel. An interrogation room-like light ominously glows from one side of the page as the red fruit casts its shadow on the white surface. The cover story‘s headline? “Rotton Apples: It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a […]

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The cover of this week’s TIME Magazine issue features a photo of an apple that’s about to be smashed by a gavel. An interrogation room-like light ominously glows from one side of the page as the red fruit casts its shadow on the white surface.

The cover story‘s headline? “Rotton Apples: It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher. Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found the Way to Change That.”

The cover has lots of public school educators and their advocates up in arms, including the American Federation of Teachers — the second-largest education labor union in the country with 1.6 million members.

rotten apples

Teachers say the Oct. 23, 2014 issue of TIME Magazine compares them to rotten apples.

alison e dunn via Flickr

The TIME issue, which was released last Thursday, has even spurred the AFT to start a petition today asking the magazine’s editors to “apologize for the misleading cover.” By the middle of the day, the petition had garnered more than 90,000 signatures, according to a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten:

The cover, according to the AFT, “cast teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.”

The context of the article is a recent court ruling in California — Vergara v. California — that concluded that its teacher tenure is unconstitutional. Both the state’s teachers’ unions and California Gov. Jerry Brown have appealed the ruling.

Tenure for public school educators is common throughout the country and was designed to protect teachers from unfair dismissal. Supporters of tenure say it’s critical to ensuring job security for a career that’s already unstable and undervalued. Opponents say it leads to unfair hierarchies and misguided employment practices that can ultimately compromise the quality of children’s education.

The California complaint, launched and funded by a Silicon Valley tycoon, argued that kids who are put in classrooms with bad teachers receive an inferior education compared to their peers in classrooms with good teachers. It theorized that tenure, by helping retain bad teachers, is unconstitutional because every child is entitled to equal access to quality public education.

But AFT’s Weingarten says the magazine sensationalized the topic with the cover’s art and the headline’s wording.

“Rather than use the cover to put the spotlight on the people using their wealth to change education policy, Time’s editors decided to sensationalize the topic and blame the educators who dedicate their lives to serving students,” stated Weingarten, who plans on delivering the petition’s signatures to TIME’s editors Thursday.

The response to the TIME issue reflects growing friction in American public education — a world that’s increasingly struggled to reconcile student learning and teachers’ job satisfaction with efforts to hold educators accountable and implement high-stakes reform.

The article focuses on the growing influence that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are endeavoring to wield in that world. The article’s author, Haley Sweetland Edwards, writes:

“While this newer class of tech philanthropists are in some ways similar to the older generation, they also come to school reform having been steeped in the uniquely modern, libertarian, free-market Wild West of tech entrepreneurship – a world where data and innovation are king, disruption is a way of life, and the gridlock and rules of modern politics are regarded as a kind of kryptonite to how society ought to be.”

David Welch, the tech titan who underwrote the California case, told TIME that tackling tenure is a key way to improving school quality, saying, “But here you have the most important aspect of society, in my mind at least – the ability to educate our children – and it’s incapable of change. It’s failing, and it doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s failing, much less do anything about it.”

Teacher caliber is increasingly being used in the contemporary school reform movement as a litmus test for educational quality.

A recent study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also bankrolled the development of the Common Core math and reading standards, found that a bad teacher can set a kid’s academic progress back by 38 weeks — or roughly an entire school year. Another study found that a good teacher can increase a student’s lifetime earnings by $250,000 versus what that student would make had that teacher been bad.

Both studies have been cited to advocate for a controversial way of measuring student achievement known as value-added measures. The approach is comparable to the tools used in Hawaii’s new contentious teacher evaluation system, which ties pay to student performance.

Hawaii for its part has aimed to refine its teacher tenure policies as part of a larger effort to overhaul accountability structures, including through the new evaluation system that starts affecting educators’ pay this year. Hawaii teachers get tenure after three years on the job, as long as they get a rating of “effective” or better on their evaluations. (Teachers are rated on a four-point scale, with “effective” being the second-highest score.)

In California, teachers receive tenure after less than two years.

The California lawsuit has prompted copycat cases in other states, including two in New York. The ruling only goes in effect if an appeals court upholds it.

“The debate over Vergara and its copycats highlights the broader landscape of education reform in a time of highly polarized politics, gridlocked legislatures and soaring inequality,” Sweetland Edwards writes. “When traditional avenues of reform seem increasingly impassable, those with vast amounts of money or simply an ingenious legal theory – or both – can seem like the only forces capable of effecting change.”

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New York-Based Education Super PAC Registers in Hawaii https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/new-york-based-education-super-pac-registers-in-hawaii/ Tue, 28 Oct 2014 03:30:18 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1056226 The New York City-based independent expenditure committee “Education Reform Now Advocacy” registered today with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission. With just a week to go before the Nov. 4 election, it’s unclear what local issue or candidate the committee is focusing on. The only report available online is the group’s organizational report, which states the committee has […]

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The New York City-based independent expenditure committee “Education Reform Now Advocacy” registered today with the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

With just a week to go before the Nov. 4 election, it’s unclear what local issue or candidate the committee is focusing on. The only report available online is the group’s organizational report, which states the committee has ties to Democrats for Education Reform.

Students at the Hawaiian immersion charter school Nawahiokalaniopuu Iki

Students at the Hawaiian immersion charter school Nawahiokalaniopuu Iki.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The committee’s chairman is Patrick van Keerbergen, DFER’s political director and a longtime political organizer who served as the Manhattan field director for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reelection campaign.

As an independent expenditure committee — or super PAC — Education Reform Now Advocacy can spend and raise unlimited amounts of money as long as it doesn’t coordinate with any candidates.

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New Hope’s Evangelism Has a Political Flavor https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/new-hopes-evangelism-has-a-distinctly-political-flavor/ Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:08:28 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1055418 On a Sunday afternoon in early October, more than 700 people gathered at New Hope Leeward’s new Kapolei site — a dimmed, air-conditioned conference hall with rows of green banquet chairs, glowing television screens and an elevated stage bathed in red and blue lights. The event was replete with references to Jesus Christ and ended […]

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On a Sunday afternoon in early October, more than 700 people gathered at New Hope Leeward’s new Kapolei site — a dimmed, air-conditioned conference hall with rows of green banquet chairs, glowing television screens and an elevated stage bathed in red and blue lights.

The event was replete with references to Jesus Christ and ended with a group prayer. But it wasn’t a church service.

Instead, it was an election forum featuring three of the four candidates for governor: Republican Duke Aiona, Hawaii Independent Party contender Mufi Hannemann and Libertarian Jeff Davis. For 90 minutes, the candidates discussed topics of importance to the faith community —  moral values, the local economy, school choice and, of course, same-sex marriage.

New Hope gubernatorial forum panorama

Attendees at New Hope Leeward’s gubernatorial forum stand in prayer at the end of the event.

Alia Wong/Civil Beat

It was New Hope Leeward’s first political forum and, according to the church, the only faith-based gubernatorial panel in Hawaii this election season. The event was put together by New Hope Leeward’s “Take Action” team, a committee that focuses on government relations and politics and closely follows the news to identify opportunities for the church to wield influence.

Much like New Hope’s services, the discussion was lighthearted and friendly. The candidates looked relaxed as they sat in immense leather chairs, all of them peppering their responses with allusions to scripture and regularly exchanging quips with moderator Mike Lwin, New Hope Leeward’s 44-year-old senior pastor and a well-known television host. A number of other candidates attended to watch the forum and introduce themselves, including Elwin Ahu, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and the senior pastor of New Hope Metro in Kalihi. (Ahu is also a former Circuit Court judge.) 

“It’s a very fine line that we’re riding. But if you don’t stand for what’s right then you don’t stand for anything at all.” — Mike Lwin, senior pastor at New Hope Leeward

David Ige was notably absent, and Lwin emphasized in his opening remarks that the Democratic candidate had been invited. A spokeswoman for Ige’s campaign said later that he had commitments on Kauai.

By giving equal opportunity to each of the candidates — and crafting questions so as not to favor anyone — New Hope Leeward followed the rules for political activity by a tax-exempt organization. The church even had three attorneys at the forum to track the discussion and vet questions from the audience.

It was one of the most visible examples of the role that New Hope Leeward — and many of its counterparts comprising the larger church network known as the New Hope Christian Fellowship — is endeavoring to play in Hawaii politics.

The evangelical megachurch has been proactive this election season, largely because of how last year’s special legislative session to legalize same-sex marriage played out. It is one of several churches to ramp up political activism this year. The Mormon Church, for example, has also seen a number of its members run for Hawaii office this season. 

The passage of gay marriage was a huge disappointment for opponents who spent days in the Capitol Rotunda chanting “Let the people vote!” Masses of people testified, reciting the same speech  — a tactic that would become known as a “citizen’s filibuster and was largely engineered by churches such as New Hope Leeward and New Hope Oahu. 

Pastor Mike Lwin

Pastor Mike Lwin

Foursquare Church

In recent months, several New Hope churches have conducted a massive effort to register people to vote, encourage members to run for office and raise awareness about political issues relevant to churchgoers. 

That mission is evident in the “New Hope Oahu Statesmanship” banner that flashes at the top of New Hope Oahu’s website: “Your Kuleana — Your Ohana,” it reads, urging members to vote. “Your Responsibility — Your Family.”

It’s also evident in the flurry of candidates this year who have ties to New Hope and in the number of people that New Hope has registered to vote this election season, largely through booths set up outside churches and registration forms included in the pamphlets handed out at services. 

New Hope Leeward alone has registered about 900 new voters, while New Hope Oahu has managed to register another 750 people, according to representatives for the churches.

Lwin calls it “a major initiative to bring God back into our nation” — an initiative that sets New Hope apart from many other Hawaii churches and could even herald a shifting landscape in public affairs in the state.

New Hope wants “to help bring a balance (to government), help people become aware,” Lwin said. “That’s a big part of our position, that as citizens of Hawaii, and also as citizens of God or heaven, we’re supposed to be active — not complacent, not grumblers.”

Religion and Politics: ‘A Fine Line’

Nationally, life is becoming increasingly secular. Nearly three-fourths of Americans believe religion is losing its influence in American life, according to the Pew Research Center.

But the center’s research also suggests that religion could be experiencing a rebirth when it comes specifically to politics. The percentage of households that believes churches and other places of worship should express their views on social and political questions rose from 43 percent in 2010 to 49 percent this year.

In Hawaii, faith-based gatherings often have political undertones. Earlier this month, Ahu and Aiona, a Catholic, headlined a massive Christian worship service at the Blaisdell Center. 

And then there are the “Pastors’ Luncheons,” organized by the Hawaii Christian Coalition, which in part aim to encourage pastors to be politically active even when they are speaking from the pulpit. Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett attended one in July that brought together 30 Republican candidates, including Aiona and congressional nominee Charles Djou. 

Civil Beat’s Chad Blair attended another in March at the Capitol, which as a state building cannot legally be used for political campaigning by state officials or employees. Dozens of religious leaders, including those from New Hope churches, were in attendance, as were a number of legislators and candidates.

New Hope oahu tv screen

New Hope Oahu often features colorful promotional videos before services begin.

Eric Pape/Civil Beat

Churches and other religious organizations with tax-exempt status such as New Hope are subject to strict Internal Revenue Service rules governing political activity.

They are prohibited from participating in political campaigns — either directly or indirectly — and advocating for specific candidates. They are also banned from contributing to political campaigns and specific candidates and, with a few exceptions, lobbying or advocating for or against the passage of a bill. A church risks revocation of its tax-exempt status if it violates these rules.

What churches are free to do, however, is engage in voter education and host political forums as long as these activities aren’t biased toward or against a specific candidate. And leaders affiliated with the churches can advocate for or against a candidate as long as they make it clear that they don’t represent the views of the church itself.

“The arrogance of our senators and House representatives who thought it was their job to make a decision for me — that broke my heart.” I said, ‘enough is enough.’ The idea of doing nothing was unacceptable.” — Bryan Jeremiah, associate pastor at New Hope Leeward

“There is a fine line between educational activities and partisan political campaign activity, so it is important for tax-exempt organizations to avoid crossing the line,” wrote Hawaii Attorney General David Louie in a July opinion piece for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

For the most part, New Hope appears to have carefully — and strategically — avoided crossing that line.

Civil Beat attended a church service at New Hope Oahu’s Sand Island site the Sunday after the Fourth of July. 

Hordes of people filtered into the expansive, modern facility, which sits amid a labyrinth of warehouses. Near the entrance stood a voter registration booth. People wearing red, white and blue handed out forms and encouraged people to sign up.

It was the first of many reminders attendees received that morning to get out the vote. Stuffed inside each church program, together with a prayer sheet and an envelope for offerings, was a voter registration form. 

New Hope voter registration

A man helps register voters before a morning service at New Hope Oahu.

Eric Pape/Civil Beat

Lwin acknowledged that New Hope runs a risk by engaging in political activity but said the church has taken every precaution to avoid breaking the rules. It regularly consults its attorneys and monitors its communications to ensure it doesn’t endorse specific candidates or issues.

“It’s a very fine line that we’re riding,” Lwin said. “But if you don’t stand for what’s right then you don’t stand for anything at all.”

Bryan Jeremiah agreed. The associate pastor at New Hope Leeward is running as a Republican to represent the House district that includes Ewa Beach and Ewa Gentry. He said it’s the church’s role to inform its members about issues that matter to them.

“We’ll go right up to that line,” Jeremiah said. “We won’t cross it, we won’t put our foot into the water … but we are going to inform you on what’s out there and who’s supporting what we as Christians believe.”

‘Perception is Everything in Politics’

Some people contend that the line does get crossed.

David Tarnas, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii County, pointed to a recent controversy in which Habitat for Humanity West Hawaii canceled a fundraising event after questions were raised about advertising featuring Aiona and Ahu’s campaign logo. The advertising identified the campaign as one of three partners in the event.

In a recent Civil Beat column, Ian Lind reported that Jen McGeehan, director of the Women’s Ministry at New Hope Waimea, planned and organized the event. 

“The Aiona-Ahu ticket has openly allied with New Hope and other conservative churches, hoping they will provide a springboard to the state’s top jobs,” Lind wrote.

Tarnas, who was one of the people to complain to Habitat for Humanity about the advertising, said it’s inappropriate for tax-exempt organizations such as New Hope to endorse political candidates. He said New Hope and other churches have been prone to breaking the rules and even misleading people, pointing to the recent “Pastors’ Luncheon” at the Capitol.

“The best way for a small community to get along is to have respect for each other and follow the law,” he said. “If not, then (the church) becomes an emotionally charged, divisive influence in our community, and that’s a disservice to civic affairs.”

The propriety of the churches’ political activity can be difficult to assess.

A series of anonymous donations to Ahu’s campaign earlier this year is an example. 

The donations are labeled in Ahu’s campaign finance reports as “calabash” contributions. Under Hawaii law, calabash contributions are exempt from the prohibition on anonymous gifts because they represent an aggregate of money donated by 10 or more people at the same political function. The donations can’t exceed $500 total. 

The addresses listed for five of the six calabash contributions included in Ahu’s report, which represents fundraising that happened through the primary election, correspond with public schools — including a few where churches affiliated with New Hope have hosted services in the past.

ELWIN

Elwin Ahu, the senior pastor at New Hope Metro who’s running for lieutenant governor

Ahu campaign

And one of the calabash contributions (for $300) was collected at the site of New Hope Metro, where Ahu is the senior pastor. Churches are strictly prohibited from fundraising for candidates. 

Lani Kaaa, who manages Ahu’s campaign, said that the five calabash contributions collected at schools were from campaign rallies that took place on the campuses and weren’t affiliated with any churches, church services or church-related activity. (Unlike incumbent politicians, Ahu can campaign on public school campuses because he doesn’t work for the state, and the state Ethics Code only applies to government officials and employees.)

Meanwhile, Kaaa said she collected the calabash corresponding with New Hope Metro outside of the church building.

“Elwin Ahu in his role as Pastor of New Hope Metro or any church representative did not make any announcements about the campaign during church,” Kaaa wrote in an email. “Through completely separate campaign efforts, some New Hope Metro congregants found out about an event to announce Ahu’s candidacy for Lt. Governor that would take place later that week and made contributions to the campaign.”

But according to the report filed by the campaign the calabash was collected on Sunday, May 11 — months after Ahu formally announced his candidacy.  Kaaa didn’t respond to a request for clarification. 

Tarnas, who’s Episcopalian and active in his church, said such fundraising raises a red flag.

“To say it’s co-located but had nothing to do with it — the appearance of impropriety is glaring,” Tarnas said. “Perception is everything in politics.”

Ahu declined to comment. His press secretary, Dawn O’Brien, said he wouldn’t be able for an interview until after the election. 

Gay Marriage Prompts New Hope Political Candidates

At least two first-time candidates for state office this year have leadership roles at New Hope: Ahu and Jeremiah.

A handful of other candidates have ties to New Hope, including Republican Carole Kaapu, a former New Hope Christian Fellowship staffer who’s challenging Rep. John Mizuno to represent the district that includes Kalihi Valley, and Republican Eric Marshall, a former member of New Hope Hawaii Kai who’s challenging House Majority Leader Rep. Scott Saiki to represent the district that includes McCully.

Meanwhile, a number of candidates come from churches that are affiliated with New Hope through its umbrella organization: the Los Angeles-based Pentecostal Christian denomination known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. They include Republican Eldean Kukahiko, the senior pastor at Hope Chapel Kahaluu who’s running for the Windward-area House district formerly represented by Jessica Wooley.

Several key issues are on New Hope’s radar: the Pono Choices sexual education curriculum, possible legalization of marijuana and the new Common Core reading and math standards, to name a few.

But it was the special session in particular that seems to have spurred some of them to run for office, including Jeremiah, a former convict who now works in construction. 

SB1 same sex marriage opponents

Opponents of gay marriage protest at the Capitol during a special legislative session last year.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“The arrogance of our senators and House representatives who thought it was their job to make a decision for me — that broke my heart,” said Jeremiah, whose oldest son is gay and married to another man in California.   “I said, ‘enough is enough.’ The idea of doing nothing was unacceptable.”

According to state records, Jeremiah had nine convictions from 1982 to 2002 ranging from robbery to assault. He was most recently convicted of abusing a family member — his son who, Jeremiah said, was 17 at the time and doing drugs and getting into trouble while living at home.

But Jeremiah said he’s reformed after finding God.

“The best way for a small community to get along is to have respect for each other and follow the law. If not, then (the church) becomes an emotionally charged, divisive influence in our community, and that’s a disservice to civic affairs.” — David Tarnas, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii County

Asked about his criminal past, Jeremiah said it was something he was willing to publicize if it meant he was getting “the message across of the importance of righteous leadership.” 

“If these guys aren’t going to tell the truth, then hey, put me in,” he said. 

New Hope Leeward played a key role in the filibuster at the Legislature, busing hundreds of people — church members and nonmembers alike — to testify against the same-sex marriage bill. The special session marked the first time New Hope Leeward had mobilized its members so intensely on a political issue, according to Lwin, who said the church’s principle concern was that politicians weren’t giving citizens a voice on the matter.

The initiative came under fire from critics who called the filibuster a dirty political trick. In particular, they denounced church leaders such as Ahu and Garret Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, for advising testifiers to “waste time” and have proxies speak in their place if they couldn’t make it.

Lwin said the filibuster was worth the effort and marked the beginning of a new era for New Hope’s growing family. 

“Citizens can have a voice — there is a process — but there’s a huge fear factor to go out to the Capitol and testify,” he said. “I think what we did, somewhat intentionally and somewhat unintentionally, is we expanded (church members’) awareness.”

Fastest-Growing Church in Hawaii

The New Hope Christian Fellowship is affiliated with Foursquare Church. New Hope is said to be the fastest-growing church in Hawaii, with some services drawing thousands of people each weekend.

Overall, there are about five dozen Foursquare churches in Hawaii, many of which have also steadily grown in size. According to some estimates, Hawaii is home to some 40,000 Foursquare members, many of whom attend New Hope churches.

New Hope has more than 100 locations around the world, including 30 sites throughout the islands. Many are hosted on public school campuses — a practice that last year prompted a high-profile lawsuit contending several churches shortchanged the state in their use of the facilities

2009 ISLAND DIGITAL IMAGING<br /><br /><br /><br /> PO BOX 11433<br /><br /><br /><br /> HONOLULU, HI.  96828<br /><br /><br /><br /> Ph. (808) 478-8118

Wayne Cordeiro, the founder of New Hope.

Derrek H. Miyahara/New Hope Oahu

The lawsuit alleged that five churches — including New Hope Oahu, New Hope Hawaii Kai and New Hope Kapolei — knowingly deprived public schools of more than $5.6 million in rent and other charges for their use of the facilities on weekends. A judge eventually dismissed that case, though Foursquare Church later agreed to pay the state $775,000 to settle a similar but separate lawsuit while admitting no wrongdoing.

The practice of renting out third-party facilities instead of developing its own brick-and-mortar sites to save money has been identified as one reason the New Hope Christian Fellowship has grown so rapidly. 

“We like building people, not churches,” Wayne Cordeiro, New Hope’s founding pastor, was quoted as saying in a 2011 article in the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard newspaper. 

Since it was founded by Cordeiro two decades ago, New Hope has focused on growing its following, expanding its reach and using state-of-the-art technology and relevant, engaging sermons to spread the gospel of Jesus.

Over the years, New Hope International Ministries — the arm of the church that recruits ministry leaders and spearheads efforts to enlarge its following — has established (or, in evangelistic speak, “planted”) churches around the world and recruited a slew of young, witty and charismatic pastors to lead them.

Prominent New Hope members include Tenari Maafala, the president of the State of Hawaii Police Officers Union who came under fire last fall for telling lawmakers he would never enforce same-sex marriage legislation if it became law.

Another is Don Horner, who chairs the state Board of Education and teaches a Bible class at a Foursquare church that was formerly known as New Hope Diamond Head. (It has since changed its name to C4 Christ Centered Community Church.)

Ahu and Lwin are two of the many pastors who planted churches and became ministry leaders under Cordeiro’s guidance.

“There was a great excitement in the church for making a difference in the world starting with individual people’s lives and then expanding in the community and internationally,” Lwin said, recalling his introduction to New Hope in 2000. Lwin, who was raised Catholic, was fresh out of graduate school at Hawaii Pacific University and running a bar when he met Cordeiro.

Lwin compared the structure of New Hope Christian Fellowship to the Starbucks business model. Each church, he said, is comparable to an independent franchise with its own organizational structure. Each has its own identification number with the IRS.

New Hope Leeward for its part has five “campuses” and boasts some 5,000 members, making it one of the largest New Hope churches in the state. (The largest is Cordeiro’s New Hope Oahu, which has roughly 6,000 members spread among three campuses, including a new facility on Sand Island and two satellite sites where attendees can watch sermons via live video broadcasts.)

“When we started New Hope Leeward, we really started with a passion to be a church that was real and relevant,” Lwin said. “If you look at the generation today, they value authenticity … We said, ‘Let’s start a church that allows people to be themselves, that addresses real-life issues in an understandable way.’ That’s really the recipe of the New Hope family.”

“When a church is always talking about real-life stuff and the stuff we think about in the news, it makes it very easy to motivate and inspire,” he said. 

Some New Hope churches are more political than others; pastors have different opinions about a church’s role in public affairs. But all of the New Hope churches are part of a cohesive “family,” Lwin said. 

“All of the New Hopes have similar DNA at heart.”

New Hope is active in the community. The churches run schools, offer premarital (or sexual) counseling and provide access to digital-media Bible studies. They record music, host events — baptisms at the beach are one highlight — and are avid on social media.

They often preface their messages with hashtags: “#Victorious,” for example.

It’s not surprising that New Hope churches are known for their knack for evangelizing and converting people to Christianity, often by making services experiences that are entertaining and flashy, uplifting and personal.

As Hoku Lwin, Lwin’s 24-year-old son, explained it, “If I really, really wanted to get an expository study on a certain part of the Bible, I’d go to a Calvary Chapel. If I wanted a very in-depth topical study I would go to a Hope Chapel. But if I wanted to invite a friend of mine (who) did not know Christ, Christianity … and make them feel comfortable sitting in a church service, I would invite them to a New Hope church.”

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Schatz Endorses Preschool Ballot Campaign https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/schatz-endorses-preschool-ballot-campaign/ Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:52:40 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1055443 Sen. Brian Schatz is publicly supporting the campaign to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to use public funds to pay for private preschool programs. The Good Beginning Alliance campaign — “Yes on 4” — already has the support of a range of business groups, private preschool providers and Native Hawaiian advocacy organizations. It’s […]

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Sen. Brian Schatz is publicly supporting the campaign to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to use public funds to pay for private preschool programs.

The Good Beginning Alliance campaign — “Yes on 4” — already has the support of a range of business groups, private preschool providers and Native Hawaiian advocacy organizations. It’s been raising and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Advocates say the passage of Question No. 4 is key to expanding access to preschool for more of the state’s 4-year-olds. They say it would allow the state to contract with private providers and subsidize tuition, making preschool more affordable for low- and middle-income families.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz at Civil Beat editorial board

Sen. Brian Schatz

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Each year Hawaii is home to some 17,500 4-year-olds, about 40 percent of which are not enrolled in preschool. A quality early education is said to be a key building block in a child’s life.

“I’m supporting the amendment because all parents should be able to send their kids to preschool,” Schatz said in a statement. “Every kid deserves a fair shot and it’s clear that early learning is essential for future success.”

“A yes vote is about helping four-year-olds get prepared for kindergarten,” Schatz continued. “Kids are four years old only once and we have an obligation to do everything in our power to give them the best possible chance at succeeding.”

Hawaii is the only state to prohibit public funding of private preschools.

But opponents, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, say the constitutional amendment would lead to more inequality and a system that amounts to a voucher program. Critics also question the allocation of public dollars to faith-based preschools. (The amendment includes a non-discrimination provision.)

“The strength of our public education system depends in part on kids getting the early learning they need to excel – passing this amendment brings more options to Hawaii to make sure that happens,” Schatz said. “Some opponents are calling this a move toward vouchers, which I wouldn’t support. The truth, however, is that amendment four is not a voucher system. It’s simply giving the state more options to level the playing field for our neediest children.”

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Watch: HPD Releases Cachola Surveillance Videos, 911 Tape https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/watch-hpd-releases-cachola-surveillance-videos-911-tape/ Sat, 18 Oct 2014 03:38:41 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1054983 More than 10 Honolulu police officers are under investigation for how they responded to a fight between a fellow sergeant and his girlfriend at a Waipahu restaurant last month. Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha made the revelation during a press conference Friday in which his department released the full video from Kuni’s Restaurant that shows […]

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More than 10 Honolulu police officers are under investigation for how they responded to a fight between a fellow sergeant and his girlfriend at a Waipahu restaurant last month.

Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha made the revelation during a press conference Friday in which his department released the full video from Kuni’s Restaurant that shows Sgt. Darren Cachola repeatedly striking his girlfriend.

The department also provided the media with a 911 recording in which the restaurant’s manager said he had been attacked by Cachola. The 911 operator is currently under investigation for being rude during the call.

Cachola surveillance video

A screen shot from one of the scuffles between HPD Sgt. Darren Cachola and his girlfriend.

Honolulu Police Department

Kealoha released the video and the recordings after repeated requests from the media, including Civil Beat. He said he “was taken aback” after watching the footage, but noted that the video provides context that previously leaked video did not show.

“It tells a different story,” Kealoha said. “They’re both engaging in combative behavior.”

He added that the scuffle between Cachola and his girlfriend was “totally inexcusable.”

Cachola’s case erupted publicly after surveillance video was sent to the media showing him taking multiple swings at his girlfriend inside Kuni’s. The video came out around the same time NFL running back Ray Rice was in the news for punching his girlfriend in a casino elevator. That incident too was caught on tape.

Reaction from Hawaii citizens and lawmakers was swift. Domestic violence victim advocates denounced HPD’s handling of the Cachola case and others involving abuse, while the Women’s Legislative Caucus and female members of the Honolulu City Council called for reforms.

There were also concerns HPD tried to cover up the incident. Cachola was never arrested and no reports were filed by the responding officers.

HPD did not push for criminal charges, saying there was not enough evidence. The case was also forwarded to Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, who convened a grand jury that did not indict Cachola.

On Friday, Deputy Police Chief Dave Kajihiro explained that the department is still conducting an extensive administrative investigation into the incident, and is looking into “everything” contained in the video.

He walked reporters through the footage, explaining the sequence of events, from Cachola taking swings at his girlfriend to her pulling him away from the restaurant manager, who was trying to call the police.

But even though the video demonstrates what appears to be domestic violence, Kajihiro said the lack of evidence, such as injuries to the girlfriend and witness statements, makes it difficult to charge anyone with a crime.

“It is a weird relationship,” Kajihiro said, “but there is no proof that domestic violence occurred.”

Kajihiro, who oversees HPD’s internal affairs division, admitted the handling of the situation was “not perfect” and said the department is taking the investigation “very seriously.” He expects the investigation to take a long time because of how many people are involved.

The officers under investigation face penalties ranging from a written reprimand to dismissal.

You can watch the videos from Kuni’s here:

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Windward Community College Gets $9.9M for Native Hawaiians https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/windward-community-college-gets-9-9m-for-native-hawaiians/ Fri, 17 Oct 2014 22:31:44 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1054916 Windward Community College says it will develop a Hawaiian immersion childcare center and improve its science, technology, engineering and math programs with a new $9.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant, which lasts five years and is titled “Hanai a ulu: Feed and Grow—Nurturing student parents and STEM at Windward Community […]

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Windward Community College says it will develop a Hawaiian immersion childcare center and improve its science, technology, engineering and math programs with a new $9.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant, which lasts five years and is titled “Hanai a ulu: Feed and Grow—Nurturing student parents and STEM at Windward Community College,” is aimed at enhancing Native Hawaiian students’ success. Forty-two percent of the college’s students identify as Native Hawaiian.

windward community college

Windward Community College will use its $9.9 million grant to support Native Hawaiian education.

University of Hawaii

WCC is the only community college in the state without a childcare center. The center — which as an immersion program will feature instruction in the Hawaiian language — will also feature a counselor and textbook library, according to a press release.

“If a student does not have reliable care for their child, how can they attend classes, study, and succeed in college?” said Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ardis Eschenberg in a statement. “This grant works to provide childcare services for our student parents so that they can grow and succeed in college, which helps their keiki to grow and succeed.”

The grant will also be used to renovate the colleges STEM facilities — virtual and physical — to increase student participation and success in those fields. The idea is to enhance technology, data access and opportunities for laboratory experience.

WCC has been increasing the number of STEM-based degrees and certificates, including a Certificate of Achievement in Agripharmatech, which incorporates classes on Native Hawaiian botany and plant use.

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New Report Finds “Testing Overload in America’s Schools” https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/new-report-finds-testing-overload-in-americas-schools/ Fri, 17 Oct 2014 02:46:20 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1054809 The findings of a new report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress probably don’t come as much of a surprise to most public school educators and policymakers: the country’s schools test kids too much, and that’s taking a toll on quality learning. The report acknowledges that standardized assessments generate useful data, support accountability, promote high expectations […]

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The findings of a new report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress probably don’t come as much of a surprise to most public school educators and policymakers: the country’s schools test kids too much, and that’s taking a toll on quality learning.

The report acknowledges that standardized assessments generate useful data, support accountability, promote high expectations and encourage equity among students. But it also finds that, for some children, “testing exacts an emotional toll in the form of anxiety and stress.”

While three out of four parents agree that it’s important to regularly assess children to make sure they’re on track, nearly half of them believe there’s too much standardized testing in schools, according to a poll commissioned by the center.

sleeping student

A student takes a nap break from studying.

Pink Sherbert Photography/Flickr

The National Education Association, the national affiliate of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, today issued a statement saying the report confirms that “too often and in too many places, the education system has turned into a system of teach, learn and test with a focus on punishments and prizes.”

Much of the study focuses on delineating between tests mandated by the federal government and those required by individual districts — a distinction with little relevance to Hawaii, the only state that isn’t broken up into school districts. (The center found that districts “overtest” just as much as, if not more than, the feds.)

But the overall gist of the report does have a direct bearing on the Aloha State, whose public schools are in the throes of implementing new standardized assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Hawaii is one of 43 states, along with Washington, D.C., that have adopted the standards: universal math and reading benchmarks that were designed to level the playing field and ensure all children are equipped with the skills they need to succeed after school and compete in a global economy.

The report endorses the standards, which contrary to popular belief were developed at the state level and not by the federal government, and concludes that they’re less likely to lead to “teaching to the test.”

But the standards are still causing a good deal of consternation in Hawaii, which is fully implementing the new tests starting next semester. Hawaii for its part is using digital assessments known as Smarter Balanced; another 21 states are also taking the Smarter Balanced assessments.

The tests themselves aren’t typically what get critics so riled up; its the way the results of those tests are used. And the frequency at which they’re administered. And the time they take away from other classroom activities.

Students are tested an average of once per month, according to the report, which looked at pupils in grades for which federal law requires annual testing. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, noted in a statement that no other country tests every child every year.

One of the biggest concerns, nationally as well as locally, is how the results of those assessments will be factored into teacher evaluations and, ultimately, their pay. In Hawaii, the tests will account for as much as 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score, depending on the type of teacher.

The use of tests to rate teachers is one of the key reasons Hawaii’s evaluation system is so unpopular.

In fact, the practice is so contentious that the Gates Foundation — the very organization that bankrolled the standards’ development — called for a two-year moratorium on factoring the tests into high-stakes decisions such as teacher evaluations.

Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has backed off on high-stakes testing, recently announcing that states can postpone for a year the use of the assessments in teacher evaluations.

Meanwhile, states such as Colorado, Illinois and New York have seen widespread protests and even efforts to opt children out of mandated tests.

But Hawaii, at least for now, is sticking to its original plan.

“School is where childhood happens,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia in a statement. “Even if Civil War dates are forgotten and geometry becomes a blur, one lesson must stick: the love of learning. No bubble test can measure how a kid feels; no standard replaces figuring out how to get along with others. So much happens at school that shapes our children’s tomorrows, including the security, acceptance and joy they feel today.”

 

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Parents to DOE: Why Aren’t We Being Told Sooner About Possible Child Abductions? https://www.civilbeat.org/2014/10/parents-to-doe-why-arent-we-being-told-sooner-about-possible-child-abductions/ Thu, 16 Oct 2014 10:10:07 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1054418 On Sept. 26, a 10-year-old boy reported that a man attempted to grab him while he was walking home from his school in Pukalani, Maui. The man, who according to reports was balding with a tribal tattoo on his right arm, told the boy, “come here,” before the child was able to break free and […]

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On Sept. 26, a 10-year-old boy reported that a man attempted to grab him while he was walking home from his school in Pukalani, Maui.

The man, who according to reports was balding with a tribal tattoo on his right arm, told the boy, “come here,” before the child was able to break free and run away. Police haven’t identified a suspect.

That was on a Friday. The following Monday, the school —Pukalani Elementary — sent a generic “stranger danger” letter home to parents, with no specific reference to the incident. Maui police classified the case as an attempted kidnapping later that day.

pukalani maui abduction sketch suspect

A sketch of the suspect believed to have attempted to kidnap a 10-year-old boy in Pukalani in September 2014.

Maui Police Department

It was one of several recent “stranger danger” incidents statewide, most of them on Oahu. The first reportedly occurred Sept. 18 near Keoneula Elementary in Ewa Beach, followed by two in the Leeward Oahu area. 

Honolulu police are now investigating the two latest incidents: attempted abductions allegedly involving students from Kahaluu Elementary and Leilehua High on Oct. 1 and 2, respectively. Both schools notified parents via phone of the incidents on the days they occurred, then sent letters home, too. Letters were also sent home to parents following the various incidents.

Most of the Oahu incidents were also promptly reported by local media outlets.

But on Maui, schools’ handling of information about the incidents — what details were released, and when — has some parents wondering whether they can trust the schools to keep them abreast of situations that could jeopardize their children’s safety.

It’s raising questions about whether the Department of Education’s communication policies are designed in kids’ best interest, particularly on neighbor islands where word doesn’t travel as quickly. 

If it weren’t for reports that surfaced late the next week on news sites such as MAUIWatch, it’s unclear whether many Maui parents — aside from those with children at Pukalani — would have ever known that the incident occurred. 

“Why didn’t the schools notify parents? Why am I finding this out on social media?” Tiffany Presley Mancao, whose 6-year-old daughter attends the nearby Waihee Elementary, asked Civil Beat after hearing about the Friday incident a week later. “Every parent should have known, every school should have notified the parents. It’s unacceptable.”

Mancao was one of more than a dozen Maui parents who commented on news posts demanding to know why their kids’ schools didn’t inform them of the incident. 

pukalani maui attempted abduction arm

The suspect in the Pukalani case is said to have a tribal tattoo on his arm.

Maui Police Department

“I just heard about it through maui mommies page :/,” wrote Reyshell Magsayo on the MAUIWatch Facebook news post. “I’m soo upset because Yakira didn’t bring home any note regarding this incident!!!!! I’m like WTF only now I hear about it and it happened last week! I’m gonna ask her teacher today why I haven’t received anything.”

“They definitely should have told all parents right away,” wrote Lisa Marie Nowacky. “Even if they were waiting for an investigation. I understand not wanting to cause a panic, but there’s always that underlying WHAT IF factor. And as parents, we deserve to always know about this kind of stuff even if nothing happened.”

Pukalani Elementary only notified parents that police had classified the case as an attempted abduction two days after the classification — via an automated phone call. The school sent parents formal letter notifications with the news a day after that. Other Maui schools didn’t notify their parents about the attempted kidnapping near Pukalani until days after it was reported in the media. 

DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said such notifications are typically limited to the parents of children at schools directly involved in the incidents. A school such as Waihee Elementary, a half-hour drive west of Pukalani, wouldn’t be expected to inform its parents that an attempted kidnapping occurred near a neighboring school. 

The DOE informs “our school parents about school-related incidents” — those that interrupt classes or involve suspicious activity as reported to the school, according to Dela Cruz.

That practice is standard procedure, she said, though it isn’t codified in department policy. She said communications on Maui following the Pukalani incident were in line with standard protocol, noting that the time at which schools notify parents often depends on how quickly police classify the cases.

Schools are not supposed to act alone; they have to coordinate any parent notifications with the DOE’s communications office, which operates out of the state office.

The letter Kathleen Dimino, Pukalani’s principal, sent home to parents the Monday after the Friday incident occurred didn’t notify them that a boy was nearly abducted near campus.

“School children in Hawaii have reported incidents of being approached by strangers while walking to and from school,” the letter said. “The safety of your children is of the utmost importance to us. We are sending this letter to you as a precaution, and to encourage you to speak to your child about ‘stranger danger,’ and about how to keep safe when coming to school and when walking home.” 

The rest of the letter contained a bullet point list with safety guidelines.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, two days later, that Dimino sent parents an automated voice message announcing what happened near Pukalani: “Several schools have recently reported concerns about strangers attempting to entice children,” the message said. “Police are investigating several cases on Oahu and now, Maui police are investigating an attempted kidnapping case involving a Pukalani school student that occurred off-campus.”

Mancao said she called Waihee Elementary’s principal, Lori Yatsushiro, the instant she read the news and was told that Yatsushiro had known about the incident for days but couldn’t notify parents without approval from the DOE communications office.

Yatsushiro didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did Alvin Shima, superintendent for most of Maui’s schools. 

“To me what’s worst is that we have somebody who’s out there … grabbing kids and preying on kids last Friday,” said Mancao, who did receive a phone notification a week after the incident. “We should’ve gotten that letter first thing Monday.”

The post Parents to DOE: Why Aren’t We Being Told Sooner About Possible Child Abductions? appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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