NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Islands in Extremis: Hawaii is One Big School System

March 1, 2002

Public school advocates say the major reason for the poor performance of public schools is a lack of resources. They argue that poorer school districts that must rely on a local tax base lack the money to hire qualified teachers, reduce class size or repair crumbling infrastructure -- equating higher expenditures on those things with improved educational outcomes. Their solution is to equalize per pupil funding statewide.

If a state equalizes school funding statewide, the public schools will begin to resemble one big school district.

As John McClaughry of Vermont's Ethan Allen Institute points out, one state, Hawaii, already is one big school district.

  • All public school teachers in Hawaii are state employees, work under the same union collective bargaining contract, and, after two years, get tenure.
  • Teachers with greater seniority have the right to displace those with less, anywhere in the state -- thus the most experienced teachers end up teaching the least challenged students in the most upscale schools.
  • Since the state pays all the bills, the State Board of Education approves school construction and repairs, and the work is scheduled and controlled by the state Department of Accounting and General Services.
  • Due to this cumbersome system, in 2001 there was a $640 million backlog of school repairs and maintenance.

Despite control of the education system by the teachers' unions -- which went on strike for three weeks in March 2001 and received a 22 percent pay increase -- the quality of education for Hawaii's schoolchildren is a disaster, says McClaughry. On the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math tests, for instance, Hawaii came in barely ahead of last place Mississippi.

Source: John McClaughry (president, Ethan Allen Institute), "One Big School System," Ethan Allen Letter, January 2001, Ethan Allen Institute, 4836 Kirby Mountain Road, Concord, Vt. 05824,( 802) 695-1448.

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