HIDOE Proposed Budget Cuts Could Impact Student Programs, Special Education, HSTA Says

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Corey Rosenlee. HSTA photo.

The Hawai‘i Student Teacher Association (HSTA) fears the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s (HIDOE) proposed cuts could result in lost jobs and student programs.

During a Zoom press conference on Wednesday morning, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee told the media that the DOE will be proposing a budget to the Board of Education on Thursday with two of the largest cuts being 10% to student formula and 9% to special education.

“The DOE has cut its budget to meet Gov. Ige’s directives,” Rosenlee said. “These cuts give the impression that we’re only trimming the fat, downplaying the severe consequences of these two cuts.”

As a state agency, DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto explained the district was tasked with identifying budget reductions of at least 10% for the next two years, on top of an already $100.2 million reduction to the base budget sustained this school year, for a total budget reduction of more than $264 million in each school year beginning July 1.

The 2019-20 budget was $1,669,263,213. The proposed budget for 2021-23 is $1,526,572,078. Kishimoto explained HIDOE is a best-practice state, with the lowest spending nationally for general administration.


“Therefore, with 94% of the Department’s funds spent directly by or for activities at the school level, these cuts will be felt by students,” the superintendent said. “We will continue to reiterate that an investment in students is an investment in Hawai‘i’s future.”

Rosenlee explained that the student formula provides every school an annual dollar amount for each student to cover operating costs. Between the proposed budget cuts to student formula and special education, it could mean that up to 1,000 special education and regular education teacher positions may be lost.

“Our keiki and their education are too important to endure these cuts, and we need to, in Hawai‘i, make sure we give our keiki the schools they deserve,” Rosenlee said.

Other programs such as art, music, Hawaiian studies, Hawaiian language, career and technical education, and physical education could all be reduced or eliminated. Class sizes could also increase.

Rosenlee added the district could also see the reduction or elimination of advanced placement, electives, and gifted and talented classes.


“Other specialist positions are also on the chopping block,” he said. “This means that special education services may not be met and this puts our state and our education system in jeopardy of violating federal law.”

Beyond just teachers, Rosenlee explained, other positions will be lost, including educational assistants, security guards, and cafeteria workers.

“The Department of Education needs to specifically explain how many positions will be lost in classrooms and on our school campuses,” Rosenlee said. “The public and our lawmakers deserve to know the effects of these cuts that are being proposed.”

There are some budget cuts HSTA does support. One of the things the union is submitting in testimony for Thursday’s board meeting is looking at using fewer bus drivers, allowing more time for routes, and starting school later.

HSTA has also suggested cuts to the tens of millions of dollars spent on standardized testing. Being a good steward of how the DOE utilizes electricity on campuses can also help reduce costs.


Rosenlee plans to suggest using under-utilized DOE properties that can provide an increase in revenue.

HSTA’s biggest hope is that Congress will pass a stimulus package that will include funding for education, as most of the CARES Act funding used for the DOE has already been spent.

The budget crisis not only affects the future of Hawai‘i’s children but also the profession as a whole.

“Right now, teachers are dealing with a trio of problems — trying to open schools during a pandemic, the governor’s furlough discussions, and now dealing with these budget cuts and potential job losses,” Rosenlee said.

When the dust settles over the economic downturn and COVID-19 pandemic, Ronselee is afraid the DOE may have teachers who’ve left the profession, leaving a gap to fill.

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