By Viola Gaskell at Honolulu Civil Beat

Advocates hope that with a near $2 billion surplus and an influx of new faces, the Legislature will open its purse strings for Hawaii’s public education system.

Campus and student safety, transportation, career paths for high schoolers and early education will be on the agendas of the legislative committees responsible for the policy and funding for Hawaii’s public education system in the 2023 session.

House Education Committee Chair Rep. Justin Woodson says he anticipates divergent priorities and dissenting opinions, but believes there will be consensus around the issue of preparedness for active shooter incidents in schools.

“In this day and age, it is something that we most certainly cannot be complacent on. Learning is secondary to health and safety,” Woodson said.

In a similar vein, Rep. Jeanne Kapela, vice chair of the Higher Education Committee, is working on a safety bill that addresses sexual violence and rape on college campuses.

The two main components of the bill are trauma-informed training for staff who handle rape cases and claims, and ensuring amnesty for students who come forward.

Another area likely to garner widespread support is the expansion of early learning, which Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke is spearheading.

Luke said she plans to introduce a bill that would increase funding for Preschool Open Doors, the Department of Human Services program that helps low-income parents pay for private preschool. Currently the program only gives parents subsidies for 4-year-olds. Luke says her bill would open up funding for 3-year-olds as well.

David Sun-Miyashiro of HawaiiKidsCAN said that with an near $2 billion surplus and an influx of new faces, he hoped the Legislature would be less fiscally conservative toward education this year, and would allocate the funds necessary to recover learning loss and narrow gaps in academic achievement.

“It’s a real opportunity for everybody to take bold action together and get to a place where all kids have great opportunities when they graduate from our schools,” he said.

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