NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Where the State Runs the Schools, Parents Send Their Children to Private Ones

October 12, 2001

Public schools in Hawaii are entirely state-run, rather than locally controlled -- the only state in the United States where that is so. They are also among the worst schools in the U.S. That has convinced many parents to enroll their children in private schools. In fact, Hawaii has the highest percentage of private-school enrollment of any state.

Some 183,000 children attend public schools in Hawaii. The governor and the Legislature set their budget, leaving the elected board of education and its appointed superintendent with few responsibilities. The Legislature also chooses how many teachers to hire and where to assign them.

Most legislators send their own children to private schools.

  • The state's school system is plagued by rundown buildings, a protracted teachers' strike, a teacher shortage, the threat of a federal takeover, cutbacks in school construction and low test scores.
  • Some 45 percent of Hawaii's publicly-educated fourth-graders, and 48 percent of eighth-graders, scored below the basic threshold on a math exam given to a broad sampling of students in almost every state -- compared to about 33 percent nationwide.
  • Such poor performances may be among the reasons one in every five children in Hawaii attends a private school -- although it is also true that Hawaii has long had a strong private-school tradition, a legacy of missionary schools.

Source: Jacques Steinberg, "In Hawaii, Public Schools Feel a Long Way from Paradise," New York Times, October 12, 2001.


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