Massive school relief money lacks targeting and transparency

HONOLULU (KHON2) – A windfall of federal COVID relief money has yet to be spent statewide, but hundreds of millions of dollars specifically for public education is among the largest.

The Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) has received more than $ 400 million from various federal COVID emergency funds, and the department has yet to spend most of it. Advocates call for more targeting and transparency.

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Federal COVID relief packages take ABC and 1-2-3 of education to the next level with alphabet soup of huge dollar rescue funds.

“This congressional money was first put there to help reopen our schools safely,” said Terrence George, President and CEO of the Harold KL Castle Foundation. “And second, to address the gaping learning loss and all the inequalities that have been exposed all over Hawaii and across the country of the world as a result of this pandemic.”

Always Investigating analyzed the five different major grants totaling nearly $ 421 million. Only about a third has been spent. A quarter of a billion dollars – $ 251 million to be exact – is on the books.

“KHON asking the tough questions and digging is very important because, at the end of the day, our officials are accountable to the public,” said David Miyashiro of HawaiiChildrenCAN. “And so I think that’s where if we can’t, as an audience, understand how these funds are being used to really help children in a transformational way, then that’s when we need to get involved. our US senators and the federal government. “

The DOE has published monthly updates with outlines of how they would like to spend the money, but huge chunks of it are allocated to generic categories to be determined or covering line items of past budget deficits. Among the largest gels, we can mention:

  • $ 65 million for teacher pay gaps
  • $ 54 million for legislative cuts
  • Tens of millions for the weighted student formula, a long-standing school funding mechanism

“There is just this assumption that it is important to close the budget holes and it will have an impact on the children. “Well, I think we’re at a point now where we need to do more than we actually need to explain; it is not about rebuilding the status quo, but it is about rebuilding better than the status quo.

David Miyashiro from HawaiiChildrenCAN

Only two of the top five categories of allowances – $ 31 million for distance education and $ 27 million for food – are directly linked to the coronavirus pandemic issues

“The food delivery by the school system was amazing,” said George. “And it shows what happens when we see it as an emergency. “

We have yet to see big red flags of ‘good to have’ instead of ‘need to own’.

“Some negative examples that we have seen – nationally they have used the funds for things like adding new football fields, which is not the purpose of these funds,” Miyashiro said. “It’s not just a ‘check off all of the items on your wish list because we’re giving you a blank check. The goal, in my opinion, is that we have to fix this learning loss, we have to fix it now. “

KHON2 asked the DOE for talks on how it would maximize federal aid money: What has worked well so far? What’s coming next?

A DOE spokesperson would not make anyone available for an interview, and instead said they would make more details public at next month’s board meeting, adding: the requirement to solicit and integrate stakeholder comments.

Stakeholders, such as parents, students and children’s advocates, told KHON2 academics and emotional well-being have bottomed out as a result of the pandemic.

“The social and emotional part is huge,” said Wendy Nakasone-Kalani of Parents for Public Schools in Hawaii. “What we are hearing from parents and even service providers is an increase in anxiety among children from Kindergarten to Grade 12.”

“When you look at the student achievement numbers, even if they don’t tell the whole story, every day we have a pandemic of 100,000 cases of students desperately trying to catch up,” said George. “And the teachers are desperately trying to catch up with them. “

“We would like the department to take care of this and what it looks like,” Nakasone-Kalani said of the learning loss, “whether it’s additional digital devices, devices to support learning, whether it is more money for recruiting teachers. If they are able to recruit more teachers, maybe we could see a decrease in class size, so that the class sizes would not be as large and there would be more interactive learning lessons.

“One priority we don’t see reflected in the ministry’s plan is workforce stabilization. We believe these payments, which were backed by the legislature, are imperative to alleviating critical shortages in our schools. Additionally, we believe these payments should be extended to all department staff as we are seeing burnout among adult supervisors, janitorial and cafeteria staff, in addition to school counselors, teachers, and administrators. . Since so many other districts across the country have been able to accomplish this, Hawaii must be able to do the same. “

Osa Tui Jr., Hawaii State Teachers Association President

There is still time to correct the plan, and the accountability and transparency that should come with such a big pot of money. The last dollar can be spent until 2024.

“We can’t wait a year or two for this to happen – it has to happen right now,” Miyashiro said. “We need to understand in real time what is going on with these funds. I don’t think that myself or our advocates with whom we have worked really felt comfortable with what we saw coming out of the reports to the education council. Considering the impact that students have suffered over the past couple of years, we really can’t waste any money. And the main way we can make sure we’re having an impact is how clear the plan for using the funds is. And what we mean by that is when we look at other states, like Tennessee, and they say, “we’re going to focus on tutoring”. It’s not “let every school figure out how to do this”.

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“The real big question for me is how do we expand what works and keep it going beyond the three years when we have this additional federal money? George noted.

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