By Megan Tagami at Honolulu Civil Beat

But education advocates said the Legislature did little to address problems such as school bus driver shortages, fire safety and the need for more preschool teachers.

State lawmakers gave the Hawaii Department of Education an infusion of almost $750 million during the recent legislative session to support school facilities, professional development for teachers, student mental health and other initiatives.

Education advocates said the Legislature’s spending decisions were a significant improvement from last year, when lawmakers cut DOE’s budget by roughly $170 million in the final weeks of the session. This year’s boost is in addition to the department’s nearly $2 billion annual budget.

But, they said, the Legislature fell short this year in addressing long-term concerns around student safety, access to early learning and affordable school meals.

School funding was a source of concern for much of the session, as state leaders looked at how to prioritize costly recovery efforts on Maui after the Aug. 8 wildfires. But the final budget passed last week fulfilled many of DOE’s requests, including money for summer learning, small and remote schools and the expansion of career and technical education.

“I think it is a budget for public education,” said Rep. Jeanne Kapela, who serves on the House Education Committee.

But other priorities legislators touted in January, including addressing the school bus driver shortage and repairing campus fire alarms, didn’t make it into law. David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, said he’s hopeful the Hawaii Board of Education will address some of these challenges in the coming months, so schools don’t need to wait another year to see changes.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Sun-Miyashiro said.

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