KAPAA — With the election less than a month away, Hawaii voters will be deciding on a constitutional amendment that would add a surcharge on investment property to help fund public education.
The question itself — “Shall the Legislature be authorized to establish as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support education?” — has drawn opposition from many across the state who fear the bill supporting the amendment is to vague and could impact local families and businesses.
Counties are worried the amendment could usurp their ability to collect real property taxes, their only funding source. Many business and community leaders say it will drive up the cost of living and hurt those who can’t afford it.
But educators, including those recently pounding the pavement in Kapaa at First Saturday, say the Department of Education is in dire need of the funds.
This year, Cynthia McClung, fifth-grade teacher at King Kaumualii Elementary School, said Hawaii is hemorrhaging teachers.
“If teachers are not teaching in the areas that they’re qualified to be teaching, that is a huge impact on the ability of the students to learn at their potential,” she said.
Most states use property taxes to fund education, McClung said, but in Hawaii that’s not the case.
“So we’re asking people to vote yes on a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to put a surcharge on that expensive, luxury, investment real estate,” she said.
The funding would help put air conditioning in all of the classrooms and help establish universal preschool in Hawaii, which is something McClung supports.
Chronic underfunding of education is one of the biggest problems facing Hawaii schools, said Felicia Villalobos, who teaches first-grade at Wilcox Elementary School.
One of the biggest issues she faces as a teacher is the school is starting a new science curriculum, but that curriculum has to be shared.
“We have broken desks, broken chairs and getting the temperature down in the classroom, it’s really hot,” she said. “Kids complain of stomachaches, headaches and we need to cool the classrooms down as well, all of them. I know they had an initiative to start cooling them all, but again, we’re going to need more funding to finish the job.”
Villalobos hopes voters are in favor of the amendment.
“It’s for the students, for the children. If they have quality teachers in the classroom then they can learn well, they can be whatever they want,” she said. “They have curriculum, chairs, desks, all the things we need in a classroom that’s functioning.”
For 22 years, Sharon Saronitman has taught at Wilcox Elementary School. The problem, she said, is that Hawaii schools aren’t growing with the times, because they are underfunded.
“We’re trying to keep up with technology but we don’t have the funds,” she said. “We’re trying to keep up with all the programs that now students need because things are changing, the needs of the community are changing, and so we don’t always have all of those programs fully funded to keep up with those types of things.”
The system is broken and it isn’t getting fixed, she said.
“We keep just putting Band-Aids on it. If we have a specific funding source, we’ll be able to secure some of these funds for these programs year after year,” Saronitman said.
Every child has the right to be educated in the public system and the system needs to be funded, she said.
“We can’t just close our doors because we don’t have enough rooms or enough teachers, or enough facilities or enough resources,” Saronitman said.
Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or firstname.lastname@example.org.