While Gov. Josh Green has proclaimed Jan. 21-27 as Hawai‘i School Choice Week, officials say the proclamation does not indicate that he supports a policy shift toward school vouchers or other systems allowing public education funds to follow students into private schools.
Organizers of Hawai‘i School Choice Week and the related National School Choice Week say their events and observances are nonpolitical and meant mainly to broaden parents’ awareness of all schooling options, including public, private charter, homeschool, online and “microschool” education.
However, the phrase “school choice” has been used commonly to refer to policies and laws in other states that have enabled public funds to subsidize students wherever they are educated, in public or private institutions.
Critics of National School Choice Week and affiliated state events point out that the national observance is led by the Aventura, Fla.-based nonprofit National School Choice Awareness Foundation. Although it bills itself as nonpolitical and nonpartisan, in the past it has listed on its website support from such conservative organizations such as the Dallas-based American Federation for Children, a lobbying and advocacy group founded by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos and the federation have strongly supported pro-school-choice policies and political candidates.
The president and CEO of the National School Choice Awareness Foundation, Andrew Campanella, previously worked in a senior role at the American Federation for Children. Campanella also worked in a senior post for the Alliance for School Choice, the federation’s nonprofit affiliate.
A news release from the National School Choice Awareness Foundation begins, “Gov. Josh Green has officially declared Jan. 21-Jan. 27 to be School Choice Week in Hawaii. In doing so, he joined state, city, and county leaders nationwide who have formally called attention to the importance of families having effective, customizable education options.” The proclamation is featured on the foundation’s website.
However, the state Office of the Governor referred the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to a passage on its website describing such a proclamation as only a “commemorative message.”
The passage reads, “Proclamations recognize significant events for public awareness of a specific issue affecting Hawaii residents. (Note: The proclamation neither indicates nor implies the governor’s support of any given issue or cause.)”
Responding to a Star- Advertiser request for comment, Osa Tui Jr., president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said Green’s proclamation for Hawai‘i School Choice Week raises concerns.
“In his proclamation, the governor stressed that ‘all children in Hawai‘i should have access to the highest quality education possible.’ But school choice does the opposite,” Tui said in a written statement.
“In this model, the ‘choice’ doesn’t favor families. Rather, it allows schools to selectively filter student applicants based on subjective and nebulous criteria, and many students will inevitably get left behind. HSTA believes that all students should have the choice of attending a great public school, and that begins with fully funding public education.”
National School Choice Week originated in 2011 and is billed as “a national celebration of K-12 education.” More than 80 affiliated presentations, activities and open houses are scheduled across Hawaii, but most do not appear on the foundation’s website because they opted not to be publicized, said Shelby Doyle, vice president of public awareness for the National School Choice Awareness Foundation.
The main local public event is the “Hawaii K-12 Parent and School Expo” on Jan. 20 at Windward Mall, featuring 35 schools and programs (see info box).
David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of the nonprofit HawaiiKidsCAN, said his organization received a grant from the foundation to present the exposition. But it is “non political, (with) no kind of policy focus. … We have no interest or time, to be honest, to kind of look at anything on the policy or legislative side or on that,” he said.
Sun-Miyashiro said the event is “like a school fair” that “helps parents see all the different kinds of cool opportunities there are in the state, from DOE schools to charters to independent homeschool, all the above. … It’s giving them an opportunity to meet some of these different schools and providers just so they can learn about what’s going on.”
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