Education: A forgotten stepchild at the state Legislature

  • Contributed photo Gary Hooser

When government tells you there is no money, what they are really telling you is that it’s not a priority.

Sadly, that is the situation with public education in Hawaii. Despite clear and overwhelming evidence of a severely underfunded public education system, our elected government leaders refuse to make education a priority.

Below are just three of the most sobering facts that are undeniable:

w Hawaii is 47th in the nation in completion rates for 9th grade through college.

w Hawaii’s public education spending, as a share of combined state and local government spending, is the lowest in the nation.

w Up to 75 percent of educators at some Hawaii schools are considered “inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field” (i.e. an English teacher teaching a calculus class). As HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association) points out, this percentage is usually higher for schools in high poverty areas, or with high populations of Native Hawaiian students.


The knee-jerk reaction from those on the right will be “It’s not all about the money.” And I agree, but the lack of adequate funding is a HUGE factor that must be addressed if systemic, long-term improvement is going to occur.

To provide a positive classroom experience, and to maximize the benefit of exposure to a positive adult role model, class sizes must be kept as small as possible.

To ensure all students are trained and confident working in the world of tomorrow, access and training in technology is essential.

They key component at the very foundation of all efforts to achieve excellence in education is the presence of a highly qualified teacher. In order to attract and retain quality teachers, and avoid the existing challenges of retention and longevity in our schools, we must improve their pay and working conditions.

Which is more important, the Oahu rail system or public education for all the islands of Hawaii?

Why is there no special session to fund education?

Why are legislators not willing to increase taxes on tourism when it could reduce class sizes, ensure we have a qualified teacher in every classroom, and provide adequate technology infrastructure (just a few of the most pressing needs)?

There are many potential sources of new funding that could be implemented, if the political will was available to do so:

1) Property tax surcharge on second homes and investment properties over $1 million.

2) A modest GET (general excise tax) increase, balanced by eliminating the tax on groceries and affordable rentals.

3) Closing the existing tax loophole for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

4) Increasing various taxes on hotels and the visitor industry, such as car rentals, hotels and TVRs (transient vacation rentals).

5) Legalizing and taxing the responsible recreational use of cannabis by adults.

6) Institute “sugar tax” on sugar beverages and factory-made junk food.

These are just a handful of a myriad of other options available to help pay for public education, but the state Legislature seems to like none of them, apparently preferring to simply maintain the status quo.

The problem is, the status quo is failing our next generation of future teachers, doctors, scientists, lawmakers and urban planners. These are the young leaders we are counting on to carry the torch after we are gone. We must make it a priority to prepare them for life after high school.

When the HSTA suggests raising the GET by 1 percent, the Legislature says NO. When the HSTA then suggested increasing taxes on the million-dollar homes of absentee owners, the Legislature again said no.

Few legislators will say our schools are adequately funded, but even fewer will step up to suggest an alternative funding solution. Seems it is easier to just say no and avoid the hard political choice involved with raising taxes or creating new revenue sources.

The solution, as always, in dealing with all elected government bodies is active public engagement. Especially in situations that require increasing taxes, it is only when the public (or the large, monied interest, in the case of rail) loudly demands results that results will be forthcoming.

We all should be asking the question, if they agree our schools are underfunded and yet they disagree with the proposals put forward by the HSTA, what alternative ideas are they suggesting?

Legislators, councilmembers, governor and mayors are elected to lead and develop creative solutions to our problems, not merely to reject the leadership of others.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

  1. Kauai teacher December 13, 2017 7:09 am Reply

    Pololei….pololei and pololei!!! Mahalo nui e Gary for pointing out the obvious in regards to our suffering educational system. Hopefully our political leaders can be motivated to make the necessary changes to improve the quality of education for our all of students!

  2. Kauai teacher December 13, 2017 7:11 am Reply

    Pololei….pololei and pololei!!! Mahalo nui e Gary for pointing out the obvious in regards to our suffering educational system. Hopefully our political leaders can be motivated to make the necessary changes to improve the quality of education for all Hawaii’s students!

  3. Kapahi8898 December 13, 2017 7:53 am Reply

    Mr. Hooser why didn’t you fix this while you were in office?!

    1. Gary Hooser December 13, 2017 2:11 pm Reply

      Kapahi8898 – If you were following Government and politics when I was serving in the Hawai‘i State Senate you would know I worked hard in support of public education. On several occasions I voted in support of increasing taxes in support of teachers and public education. Unfortunately the majority chose not to follow suit.

    2. Sunrise_blue December 13, 2017 9:15 pm Reply

      Meet with who? Matayoshi. Or was her name Corale, the lawyer. The Stevie Wonder scandle at UH. How would they address the issues like failing grades or graduation rates dropping? High schools. Why would she care? And who is he too, Carvalho jr.? Mr. Fail.

    3. Sunrise_blue December 13, 2017 9:33 pm Reply

      Blunder or scandal.

    4. USunrise_blue December 13, 2017 9:36 pm Reply

      The rule was 25 55. By 2025, 55 % pass. So it is below this.

  4. Ex Castillo December 13, 2017 10:38 am Reply

    Tax rates has to be determine in which such would not impede the current operational aspect of vacation rental business. Valuation may vary depending upon the category of property. They cannot just have same valuation of the different property. Rather than imposing unjustifiable taxes, focus on the positive implications that the vacation rental business has brought into the economy, the employment that it has brought and the continued business that it offers to its business partners. Please check to learn about vacation rentals.

    1. Sunrise_blue December 13, 2017 9:41 pm Reply

      Why would the economy follow the tax rate? Leaders on board. Still unfounded only because the middle class will be taxed. I would not care about political issues. Just financial.

  5. Manawai December 13, 2017 10:55 pm Reply

    Typical tax and spend liberal. We can’t even fund government employees retirement plans and benefits, nor keep water and sewer systems in shape and Looser wants to just keep spending more money and raise taxes. Spend more money and raise taxes is all this unimaginative nothing new failed legislator knows how to do. that’s the dolt’s answer to everything. Raise taxes.

  6. Stan Lake December 14, 2017 9:25 am Reply

    When a politician tells me we don’t pay enough in taxes what they are really saying is there is no quenching their thirst for other people’s money. Has there ever been a government entity anywhere at any time that said “We don’t need any more money”? Gary Hooser asserts that our education spending … is the lowest in the nation yet according to the Department of Education we rank 17th in the nation for per pupil spending.

    Let’s just say for the sake of discussion that everything he says is true and all we have to do to solve this problem of mal-education is to raise taxes so we can throw enough money at it. Has anyone any idea how much that would be? Instead of always asking for more, more, more, how much will it take to Finally solve the problem of our kids not receiving a good education? Is there any public school anywhere you can point to as a model that has enough funding? Or can you point to any school that provides an exemplary education and use their funding amount as a model? If we just had as much money as school X then we could achieve similar results? If a simple lack of funds is the problem, how much money is the answer?

    If adequate funding is a “HUGE factor” then adequate funding will produce HUGE benefits. According to, in order for Hawaii to achieve number one status in the USA for per pupil spending we would have to go from $12,855 to at least $21,207 beating out New York, about a 65% increase. That would make our kids smarter than the average New Yorker. Surely that isn’t our goal; we need to spend more than that. So tell us, how much and how do you arrive at that figure? If no such figure exists then we must be focused on the wrong solution.

    Here’s an outrageous idea. Although the USA ranks third in the world for per pupil spending we are not in the top ten for academic excellence. Why not look worldwide at who provides the best education to their students and examine how they do things differently? Actually, this has already been done. The reason the public doesn’t know about it is because the answer to the problem does not involve more money for public unions.

    1. Pete Antonson December 14, 2017 2:01 pm Reply

      Looking worldwide would merely garner methods that work within the cultures and customs of other people and not ours, which, BTW, is the same confound that skews unrealistic comparisons between students of different countries.

  7. Craig Millett December 14, 2017 10:25 am Reply

    Thank you Gary for bringing education in Hawaii out into the light of day. Apparently our state government
    does not care about public schools as evidenced by its gross lack of support for them. I suggest that everyone who truly cares go to candidate debates and other campaign events and ask those running for office what if anything they have done for public education. Although I didn’t go to school here I have attended parent/teacher meetings on behalf of my hanai niece and nephews. Attendance by parents was very poor and the community seems more interested in whether or not they get to watch football at night. There is often much talk about young people here having trouble making a life for themselves here. Schools could make that much easier than it is if only they had the unqualified support of state government. However we would rather spend millions on needless sales and marketing of Hawaii to the tourist “industry”. It is our apathetic state government than is sending our youth out of state to make a life for themselves.

  8. Charlie Chimknee December 14, 2017 2:18 pm Reply

    The most important part of a person’s life is their own body, without which, or certainly without it functioning properly, everything else is les or worse; as would be each indivuals’ human potential being less: you won’t be what you could be. You just can’t be what you could be if your HEALTH is deficient.

    Currently Hawaii Public Education is at about near ZERO in educating our youth about their bodies’ Health, yet everyones future depends on their Health.

    All people are, due to lack of education of their most important asset (their BODY), left to their own ignorance to maintain their Health, which fails early in life for most people. Health failure results in trudging off to use the Big 4’s Business of selling drugs and surgery in the Treatment of Disease Care (Big 4 = Insurance Companies, Petro-Chemical Pharmaceutical Companies, Hospitals, and Doctors). As seen on TV, many of the Disease Care Treatments result in HELLth Care.

    The solution to the rampant epidemic of Disease is its Prevention. Yet, like Health Education, Disease Prevention is not taught in schools or the media, nor researched, nor financially invested in as a state or nation. The Negative side to having Disease Prevention is that it not only perpetuates Health, thank God, but it`would eliminate much of the business of Disease Care’s Drugs and Surgery sales.

    If you are not sick or diseased you would not even think of not using the Big 4’s Disease Care business; let’s make us all feel that way.

    Disease Care spends $4 Trillion ($4,000,000,000,000.00) of your money on itself each year for handsome profits for the Big 4 equal to 20% of the US national debt; yet Americans are getting sicker and sicker with more and more diseases year after year. Disease Care is proven to work as a business but does not work for the Health of our people. Proof is in the massive amount of drugs sold in America.

    70% of Americans take prescription drugs. 60% of Americans take Over the Counter Medications. Their is a propensity for low income Americans and minority populations to take illegal drugs, often resulting in various criminal activity and housing in prison.

    57% of children today will be obese (not just over weight) by the time they are 35.

    Education about Health, how to live and eat and exercise and have a healthy lifestyle results in maintaining, perpetuating, and restoring Health. Health education prevents Disease Care.

    Since World War II, American and other nations have gotten into a very deep rut relying on Disease Care treatments using drugs and surgery.

    While some few drugs and surgery are of great benefit, the rampant unnecessary use of them has led to a bankrupt efficiency of their misuse.

    The monies spent on drug research for new medicines to replace the continual old ones that do not work, and the monies spent on drug advertisements; if that money was spent in schools and media we would see a dramatic increase in the health of our children and people.

    The big human killers of Heart and Vascular Disease, Cancers, Iatrogenic Disease (doctor/drug caused illness and death), Diabetes, Obesity, Liver and Kidney diseases, can very much be eliminated with the elimination of the un-Healthy foods in our stores and quick restaurants and the drugs taken for granted and taken too much.

    Our society has sunk to the low level of inability to understand how to be healthy, and without a thought of what would be better for them, and people resort to drugs and surgery first as is proven by statistics…all the while suffering from the Illusion of Medical Invincibility.

    When someone is sick do they ever stop and think what was the Cause of their sickness?

    Remove the Cause and you remove the problem; sickness and disease are an Effect…Think Cause and Effect; it should be taught in school and media as it relates to health.

    Everyone wants their health but sacrifices it for food and dugs made of chemicals most of which are made from petroleum and are carcinogenic…cancer causing.

    Eating animals guarantees a slow accumulation of Heart and Vascular Disease, over several decades but an early death from same.

    Sugar and its cousins including refined flours convert to fat in the body and provides an accumulation of fat storage bringing people to obesity then diabetes…and early death.

    As a society we should convert to making an effort to be born and raised healthy by way of educating our children and adults (parents) via school and media. Drugs ads are on TV all day, these could be replaced with Health education.

    This would not work well or sit well with the Big 4 of Disease Care; the future would do better with people providing Health Care not Disease Care.



  9. Manawai December 14, 2017 2:34 pm Reply

    The problem with education in Hawaii is not the schools; it’s the home and family which don’t support and help educate and use study discipline at home to make sure the children are learning. This is the problem with socialist societies such as ours. We leave it entirely up to the government to do everything like educating our children when the true responsibility is with family. Throwing more money at the schools, as socialist like Gary Hooser, would do will not change the family. Only good family values and conscientious home support can make better students.

    1. Gary Hooser December 15, 2017 12:25 am Reply

      So manawai – what specific and tangible suggestions do you have for making things better? This was a HUGE point I was making. People will criticize proposals they don’t like, but fail to offer specific and tangible alternatives.

  10. Manawai December 16, 2017 8:48 am Reply

    You’re the one pontificating all the time. You tell us! Otherwise, just go away. Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it otherwise it would have been solved already. It’s a failed solution. If YOU don’t have anything better to offer, just be quiet.

  11. WestKauai December 16, 2017 2:39 pm Reply

    Hooser shows once again that there is no tax he doesn’t like…despite the hardship on the taxpayer.

    He also misses the point that Hawaii already spends more per student than most of the other states, and that money goes mostly to feed the DOE bureaucracy. He is apparently unaware that this same bureaucracy is responsible for the poor recruiting of qualified new teachers. Well-qualified applicants are routinely turned away, as existing staff are re-assigned to teach subjects for which they have no prior training.

    What is needed is to reduce the bureaucracy and waste, such as implementing programs that have demonstrably failed elsewhere. Then, perhaps the money can reach the classroom where it is needed.

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