Column: Cuts endanger civil rights of scholars

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You saw the worrying headlines. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be removed from our public school operations to fill the budget void over the next few years. More than $ 264 million a year, with no labor savings from vacation or cutbacks, would be removed from the Department of Education’s base budget after we made a proposal to meet budgeting guidelines.

This is happening in the midst of a health pandemic with as-yet-unknown consequences for learning losses and rising costs for curriculum, connectivity, health, trauma and safety.

It keeps me up at night and hurts me deeply. Our principals are going through the difficult process of figuring out how to raise $ 124 million at the school level, including $ 24 million specifically for special education. Our Central State Bureau, which already has the lowest general administration spending at the national level, has identified more than 100 downsizing that will have a direct impact on school services.

The implementation of these cuts presents our students and staff with great difficulties and uncertainties. Our children don’t deserve this. Students should not be forced to stand up for their basic civil right to quality public education. What is Hawaii doing for its public school students at a time when our children’s education is severely disrupted and fears, insecurities and unknowns are a heavy burden on their families?

I propose a strong lever for change.

In the name of our public school system, I will strive for the passing of a civil rights law in the coming session that provides for funding through a so-called maintenance of the expense guarantee. This approach, which exists nationally in various fair funding strategies at the federal, state and local levels, is intended to provide students with consistency by ensuring that education funding remains constant from year to year. It would be illegal to lower the department’s base budget below the previous year’s level.

Hawaii has an opportunity to show the nation that the civil rights of its students in public schools are non-negotiable and that there are no dispensable generations of students. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which deliberately followed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, established a cornerstone and stated that students – regardless of their socio-economic status – have a right to free, quality public education. The following eight new authorizations by the ESEA have further clarified these rights and pushed back the state-led political struggles over race, segregation and equality of access.

We are in a different kind of battle – the battle of prioritizing public funds in Hawaii to protect this constitutional right.

When Hawaiian law comes back next month, we will be vigilant to prevent investments in public education. But we can’t do this alone. We need the hope and vision of our community that stand together together. No more unfunded mandates. No more excessive guidelines that keep us in the factory job age. No more cuts in funding for public education.

What will Hawaii’s message be to our children when the 2021 legislature is suspended? The answer will be reflected in the budget for our public school system.

Christina M. Kishimoto, Ed.D., is superintendent of the Hawaii Department of Education.

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