Among the education-related bills signed by Hawaii Gov. Josh Green this week was HB503, which calls upon the state board of education to assess when, and whether, to make computer science a graduation requirement.
(TNS) — Measures giving the state’s new School Facilities Authority access to millions more dollars and dramatically broader flexibility to build teacher housing and preschool classrooms were among a group of education-related bills signed into law by Gov. Josh Green in a ceremony Monday.
Measures giving the state’s new School Facilities Authority access to millions more dollars and dramatically broader flexibility to build teacher housing and preschool classrooms were among a group of education-related bills signed into law by Gov. Josh Green in a ceremony Monday.
But Green and Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said afterward they also recognize a backlog of more than $1 billion in existing construction projects that the state Department of Education must meanwhile sort out and execute to avoid having its appropriations lapse.
Green signed into law four bills related to Hawaii’s public schools at a combined signing ceremony and news conference at Royal School in downtown Honolulu. Among the data he said point to the urgent needs of Hawaii’s public education system: 1,200 teacher vacancies each year caused by the state’s chronic teacher shortage, and 66,000 people in the islands who are without high school diplomas.
Senate Bill 941 appropriates $170 million for the construction of housing for teachers, educators and staff, and sets out a wide range of unprecedented powers for the School Facilities Authority, a relatively new agency created by the 2021 Legislature to take over capital improvements projects from the DOE.
Among the new powers for the School Facilities Authority under SB 941 are the ability to partner with public and private agencies to develop classrooms and on-and/or off-campus housing for teachers, educators and staff; request any state or county agency to render services; and contract to manage the leasing and property management of housing projects or transfer the property to another public agency. Although the School Facilities Authority is placed within the DOE, it is only for administrative purposes and it operates independently of the DOE.
“We all know providing financial incentives and affordable housing options for our teachers is crucial to attract and retain talented educators,” state Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Senate Committee on Education and introducer of SB 941, said at the signing. “It is particularly challenging to recruit and retain teachers in Hawaii with the high cost of living and very little affordable housing available. The funds appropriated in the budget are a great first step towards meeting this critical need.”
House Bill 960, also signed by Green, transfers a previous appropriation of $200 million to the School Facilities Authority for preschool classrooms to a more flexible special School Facilities Special Fund and officially places prekindergarten facilities within the scope of the School Facilities Authority.
The School Facilities Authority is responsible for creating 465 classrooms over time through a combination of renovations and new construction to provide preschool access to all Hawaii 3- and 4-year-olds by 2032. The new classrooms will join 37 public preschool classrooms already run by the state’s Executive Office of Early Learning.
Luke, who is spearheading the preschool initiative, known as, noted that the state Legislature in 1989 passed legislation that called for universal access to preschool for all Hawaii 3- and 4-year-olds by the year 2000.
The current preschool initiative is “the culmination of the work by a lot of the partners sitting here in the private sector, community leaders, counties, charter schools, Department of Education, so many of the departments,” Luke said. “It’s a combination of vision that was set in 1989. So I’m so thankful to this governor for making it happen. … The things that we could not imagine possible are happening today.”
Green said in a follow-up statement that the four new laws, plus several signed in June, provide crucial support for the approximately 169, 000 students in Hawaii public and charter schools. “A number like that highlights the need for sound policies and support systems, sufficient funding, and resources for employees to ensure quality teaching and learning,” Green said.
Asked during the news conference about a reported backlog of more than $1 billion in school construction projects under the DOE, Green said, “We are playing catch-up on a lot of different issues that have kind of built up over the years, particularly during COVID.”
He said housing for teachers and state Department of Hawaii Home Lands housing issues are two areas he wants to focus on. “This is our chance to really accelerate,” he said.
Luke also acknowledged in a separate interview, “We really need to deal with the billion dollars’ worth of backlog.”
She said she feels hopeful that insights the School Facilities Authority is gaining in streamlining preschool construction can be used to work with the DOE “to figure out the issue, because that is a lot of money,” she said. “If they don’t use it within a certain amount of time, that money lapses; then they would have to go back to the Legislature and ask for right to reappropriate.”
State education officials and the Legislature meanwhile have been divided on massive budget cuts set for Hawaii’s public schools for the next two years.
Green also signed into law Senate Bill 1344, which renames “school health aides” as “school health assistants” and authorizes them to administer medication to public school students with the approval of a health care professional within the state DOE or Department of Health, or a health care service.
Green, a medical doctor, said he’d one day like to see a health clinic in every school.
The governor also signed House Bill 503, which requires the state Board of Education to “examine the future of computer science as a part of statewide high school curriculum.”
While not as aggressive as originally proposed, the measure calls on the BOE and DOE to conduct an “analysis on the necessary timeline and appropriate process for implementation of making computer science a graduation requirement by no later than the 2030-2031 school year” and “determine whether making computer science a graduation requirement would be in the best interests of public school students and the public.”
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The final version was praised at the news conference as a big step. “From artificial intelligence to advances in health care, renewable energy and agriculture, the current and future impact of technology cannot be overstated,” David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Hawaii KidsCAN, said at the news conference. He added that the bill will increase “equity and access to computer science courses for all of Hawaii’s students so that the STEM fields will finally reflect the diversity of our state.”