Our voices were heard on Wednesday, and three bills that would collectively promote computer science and public charter school facilities equity have passed through the House Education and Higher Education committees. Thank you for standing with our team on short notice to benefit keiki across the state!

Your advocacy around this proposed legislation was clearly felt at the Capitol, and lays a strong foundation for achieving school policies in 2018 that put kids first.

The committee hearing was jam-packed, and it was my privilege to deliver testimony on behalf of HawaiiKidsCAN. I was inspired, too, by the scope of support for these bills; voices in favor of computer science professional development and facilities funding for existing charter schools included teachers, students, industry professionals and everyday concerned citizens. We also received some great feedback from folks who provided testimony:

“I think there can be disconnects for teachers at times on where their voice has impact when it comes to bills. It helps to have people like you to make it more concrete and tangible—identifying something we can do to make a difference as educators. Thank you also for providing the rationale in such a crisp and easy to read email.”

“I submitted testimony because of your email! Thank you! I appreciated so much being made aware of what’s going on at the Capitol and how I can voice my support. So great!”

Now that each bill has inched closer to adoption as law, it’s critical for community advocates like us to stay involved and maintain a drumbeat of support. After all, the matters at hand could change the landscape of education in Hawaii, not only freeing up charter schools to invest their resources in innovative programs, but also by creating more opportunities for our studentsespecially girls, and children from low-income householdsto explore STEM coursework from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Here’s why we stood in support of HB 2607, HB 2508 and HB 2509:

High-quality computer science courses and professional development opportunities translate into more chances to confront inequity:  In recent years, there’s no doubt that Hawaii has made progress toward promoting computer science as a viable, accessible option for kids to study. The Department of Education has established a dedicated computer science team, and has been developing since 2017 a set of K-12 computer science standards that will bring us closer to the rest of the nation.

But we’re not leaders yet. In my testimony, I described one state that’s ahead of the curve, setting a strong example for us to follow as quickly as we can. There, K-12 standards for computer science have already been adopted, and $2 million have been earmarked for expanding computer scienceincluding money for professional development, an area of dire need in Hawaii. This state allows computer science to count toward math and science credits, and even has a computer science position in the governor’s STEM Action Center.

It’s not California, as you may be thinking, but Idaho. Meanwhile in Hawaii, only 14 public schools offer AP Computer Science, and just four of those schools serve a large population of low-income students. We can’t accept this reality when STEM-related jobs are some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid in our country.

This inequity impacts girls and young women, as well; of the 290 students who participated in AP Computer Science exams, just three in 10 were female. It’s not because they lack interest and talentit’s because they lack exposure to this kind of education, and that’s a problem we must fix as early as kindergarten. In fact, research shows that exposure to computer science at a young age leads girls to long-lasting passion for the subject. After participating in a hands-on introduction to coding through an Hour of Code event, female students are 10 percent more likely to say they like computer science. Female high schoolers who enroll in AP Computer Science courses are also more likely to major in the subject when they get to college.

Taking computer science seriously in Hawaii public schools will naturally create more opportunities for students to learn about it. In a world that’s ever-changing, our kids deserve a chance to keep pace.

When charter schools don’t have to spend enormous amounts of money on their facilities and school meals, they can invest those resources in what matter most:  In Hawaii, public charter schools are true partners in connecting every child with an education that works best for them. The learning models represented across our charter network are diverse, inspiring and excitingnot just for the students who attend, but for anyone who gets the chance to see inside the classroom, where teachers use project-based learning, arts integration, Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian language immersion, environmental sustainability and blended learning as ways to engage their kids.

What’s more is that our charter schools accomplish this work as they contend with “crippling” facilities costs, an expense that doesn’t factor into traditional public school budgets. Moreover, traditional public schools receive more than $12,500 per student from the Department of Education; charter schools receive just about $7,000. That money is necessarily divided between the cost of teaching and the cost of building repairs and network infrastructures in one of the nation’s most expensive real estate markets. That money also goes toward meal servicesan essential part of schooling, particularly for students from limited means.

Some schools have worked around this funding limitation through creative solutions, like cost-sharing with other nearby charters. For isolated schools, this model is difficult to replicate. And geography matters. For many students, access to the learning environment that best fits them is impossible without affordable transportation. With strained budgets, charter schools must overcome challenges as seemingly straightforward as getting kids there in the first place.

Every student in Hawaii deserves to succeed, and deserves access to equitable resources in the classroom. That’s what makes a great education.

We’re encouraged by the passage of HB 2607, HB 2508 and HB 2509 through the House Education and Higher Education committees, and we hope it’s the first step toward realizing a new era for computer science and charter schools. Let’s keep our voices loud, well-informed and passionate. It’s how lawmakers will remember, in every policy decision they make, that our kids are the most valuable asset we’ve got. They deserve our investment, and our advocacy.

David is the founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN. He lives in Honolulu, HI.


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