Why is Hawai‘i Losing More Teachers Every Year?

May 17, 2019, 1:15 PM HST (Updated June 20, 2019, 2:22 PM)
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The community was invited to provide input on Hawai’i DOE’s next 10 years. PC: Hawai’i Department of Education feedback session

Hawai‘i Department of Education executives have consistently seen pay increases over the last several years, while teacher salaries are still among the lowest in the nation, considering the cost of living.

The Hawai‘i Government Employees Association union, which covers principals, vice principals and athletic directors, has negotiated a 3.7% annual pay increase until 2021.

The labor union that represents Hawai‘i’s teachers—the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association (HSTA)—has negotiated an annual average pay increase of 3.4% for teachers from 2017 to 2021.

The deputy superintendent now makes between $155,000 to $180,000 per year, assistant superintendents earn between $145,000 to $175,000 per year and complex area superintendents receive between $135,000 to $170,000 per year since the most recent pay hike. From 2010 statistics, principals earned $102,000 to $179,000.

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The HSTA believes that the inequity problem is rooted in the Board of Education and Hawai‘i State Legislature‘s refusal to become involved in collective bargaining.

Corey Rosenlee, the President of Hawai‘i State Teachers Association and longtime social studies teacher, felt the discrepancy between teacher salaries and administrators were in line with their counterparts nationwide.

When adjusting for cost of living, the average starting salary for a teacher in Hawai‘i is $24,409—the lowest in the nation. Wyoming has the highest starting salary, starting at $47,288.

Rosenlee said that Hawai‘i teachers salaries are generally $15,000 less per year than those of teachers who work in cities with similar costs of living, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Also, Hawai‘i districts receive $6,000 less per pupil than competitive districts.

Rosenlee explained he felt this discrepancy stemmed from the fact that the Boards of Education in other states have authority over property tax—which is not the case in Hawai‘i.

In addition to salary discrepancies, a recent analysis by WalletHub determined that Hawai‘i ranked lowest in the nation not only for teacher salaries, but support as well. Just 39% of Hawai‘i teachers felt supported by their administrators.

Perhaps these reasons contribute to the fact that Hawai‘i is losing 1,200 teachers each year and there aren’t enough locals going into the profession to meet demand.

From 2012 to 2018, there was an 84% increase in teachers resigning and seeking higher pay and lower cost of living on the mainland.

Gov. David Ige answers questions on May 2, 2019. PC: Office of the Governor

Rosenlee said there has been a 70% increase in the number of teachers who left this past year to teach on the mainland.

Gov. David Ige is working with legislators on SB 114HB 559 and 649, which would build housing on government land to provide more affordable housing to teachers in hopes of improving teacher retention.

The DOE has had to increase recruitment efforts to bring teachers from the mainland in the last two years. Beginning in early 2019, representatives were sent to seven cities all over the mainland in hopes to fill the need.

Rosenlee said that last year, 68% of new teachers in Hawai‘i were recruited from the mainland.

However, Rosenlee did not believe that the discrepancy between teacher and administrator salary was the reason Hawai‘i is losing so many teachers, reiterating that he believed it is because the Hawai‘i Legislature and Board of Education refuse to get involved in collective bargaining like they do in other states.

Hawai‘i State Supreme Court. Courtesy photo

Therefore, in 2017 the HSTA attempted to add an amendment to the Hawai‘i State Constitution to add a surcharge on residential investment property and visitor accommodations to help fund public schools and improve teacher retention.

However, in October 2018, the Supreme Court prevented it from a public vote after strong opposition by luxury developers, real estate interests and businessmen.

Until legislative members like House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke agree to set aside funds for collective bargaining, the HSTA union worries that teacher retention will remain an issue.

Sierra Hägg
Sierra is a recent graduate of William S. Richardson School of Law. She grew up in Puna and attended Christian Liberty Academy. She went on to get a major in psychology and minor in political science from the University of California, Davis.
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