Hawaii’s Race to the Top Funds Saved — For Now

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The US Department of Education today notified state officials that they have another five or six months to demonstrate that Hawaii is meeting the requirements for its Race to the Top funding.

Federal officials in December placed Hawaii’s $75 million grant on “high-risk” status because the state had not demonstrated adequate progress for the first year of the grant.

Last month, DOE officials spent four days in Hawaii assessing the state’s efforts toward implementing reforms.

A letter sent today to Gov. Neil Abercrombie from Ann Whalen, the DOE’s director of policy and program implementation, said last month’s review indicated that Hawaii has made progress addressing the department’s concerns.

“However, due to the preliminary nature of most of these activities and the lack of necessary conditions for reform,” the DOE will retain the state’s high-risk status, the letter said.


However, since the state “has taken recent actions in the right direction,” that warranted another look at Hawaii’s case “in five to six months,” the letter said.

“The department recognizes Hawaii’s dedication to pursuing comprehensive reform,” it said. “We will continue to provide assistance to Hawaii as you work to meet the commitments in your Race to the Top grant.”

Hawaii school superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said today that Hawaii schools will continue to make progress toward reform.

“The U.S. DOE has acknowledged Hawaii has taken steps in the right direction, and we will continue to move forward on all of our deliverables,” Matayoshi said.


“We appreciate the U.S. Department of Education’s investment in Hawaii,” Abercrombie said in a statement issued today. “We will continue to press forward on these reforms with the objective of ending the high risk status currently under review.”

Although Whalen’s letter did not specify the state’s deficiencies in the Race to the Top program, one of the conditions of the grant was to tie educators’ pay to performance.

The state Board of Education last month endorsed such a plan, but its implementation is subject to collective bargaining between the state and the teachers union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

A performance-based plan was included in a contract offer rejected by teachers in January. Although both the union and state have since made new proposals, HSTA President Wil Okabe announced this week that teachers will reconsider ratification of the January proposal.


Okabe said the union had “rushed” the January vote and now intended to remedy that by holding informational meetings with teachers statewide.

The change in heart was “driven by the urgency to preserve the $75 million Race to the Top grant for Hawaii,” Okabe said in a letter to Abercrombie.

“We have an unquestionable mutual interest to secure the federal grant for the benefit of Hawaii’s children,” Okabe said.

However, Abercrombie has rejected the union’s latest proposal, saying that the January proposal no longer has legal standing. Also, Abercrombie said, the counter-proposal the union submitted in February has not been officially withdrawn.



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