Hawaii School Furloughs Stir Anger
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Schools out today for many kids in Hawaii. Its the second of 17 furlough Fridays the state has imposed to close a big gap in its education budget. Hawaii has instituted one of the most drastic public school teacher furloughs in the country. Parents are up in arms, state officials are scrambling.
From Hawaii Public Radio, Ben Markus reports.
BEN MARKUS: At Kahala Elementary at Honolulu, kids are herded along a shaded walkway into a schools cafeteria. It was in this cafeteria several weeks ago that Jo Kern(ph), mother to a first grader, banded together with other moms, worried about looming furlough Friday.
Ms. JO KERN: And from that meeting, a little voice, someone sitting next to me said we should really march on the capital.
MARKUS: They formed Hawaii Education Matters, and last Friday they indeed marched on the capital.
Unidentified Man: Some 700 parents and children rallied at the state capital today to protest cuts to education on furlough
Unidentified Woman: State capital turned into an outdoor classroom on this first furlough Friday
MARKUS: Protests were also taken to court. Two class action law suits were filed against the state. Eric Seitz is one of the lead attorneys. Hes encouraged by the protests because he says it will take public outrage to move state government.
Mr. ERIC SEITZ (Lawyer, Hawaii): The outcome of this whole issue is going to be a defining moment in the political life of this community and for a long time to come. And its very critical, I think, that we resolved this problem sooner than later because the long-term effects are going to be horrible.
MARKUS: Hawaii students already test well below the national average. More than 60 percent of island schools havent met adequate yearly progress under the federal education program known as No Child Left Behind. Garrett Toguchi is chair of the Hawaii Board of Education. He says there just werent many other options after a 14 percent cut to education funding this year. He says officials warned the public months ago this was coming.
Mr. GARRETT TOGUCHI (Chairman, Hawaii Board of Education): And the public didnt pay attention. And, you know, I understand only because it probably wasnt happening, maybe people thought it wasnt going to happen. But we knew it was going to happen and so when it finally did happen, the publics reaction is not surprising, but it is, sadly, maybe a bit too late.
MARKUS: After the protest last Friday, Governor Linda Lingle, who signed off from the furloughs, back peddled and said she now thinks there were a mistake and the state senate has formed a special committee to look into options to restore the lost instructional time. Again, chair Toguchi.
Mr. TOGUCHI: Im very pessimistic that anything will be done, but on the other hand, Im optimistic that Ill be proven wrong.
MARKUS: Until lawsuits are settled or state government can work out a compromise, parents of the more than 170,000 public school kids across the state are stuck, wondering what to do with their kids on furlough Friday.
(Soundbite of children)
MARKUS: Back at Kahala Elementary, Jo Kern has decided to put her son Max in the learning enrichment program.
Ms. KERN: You know, classroom time is just not something that can be compromised. Its just as simple as that. Its not a debating tool.
MARKUS: But at $30 a day, its not something everyone here can afford.
For NPR News, Im Ben Markus in Honolulu.
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