The debate Friday night between incumbent Governor Linda Lingle and former legislator Randy Iwase highlights the reality that neither candidate will do much to improve Hawaii public schools. According to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ratings, Hawaii was 47th in 2003, second worst in 2005, and has consistently been in the bottom five. According to SAT scores, Hawaii public schools were the worst in the nation in 2004.
Iwase stated the standard Democrat mantra that NCLB is an “unfunded federal mandate” and “lacks flexibility.” (Mazie Hirono and Neil Abercrombie are other examples of local Democrats who are “outraged” at the “unfunded inflexible federal mandate.”) Everyone should stop and consider what these two phrases really mean for citizens. The “unfunded federal mandate” excuse is a plea to throw more money at the problem; money that ultimately comes from the taxpayers; money that translates into citizens working longer hours to feed a voracious, inefficient, and incompetent governmental agency. The Hawaii Department of Education has shown us no reason to trust them with an increase to $15,000 per child when they cannot account for the approximately $11,000 now spent. The latest audit of Kailua High School illustrates how poor our schools are in simple bookkeeping: half a million dollars in unaccounted for inventory; hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing funds; and payments to relatives of the athletic director who commingles school funds with his own personal finances.
Just because NCLB is a federal mandate does not mean it has to come with funding. The US Constitution is a federal mandate. A government organization cannot use the excuse of not receiving funds to justify denying basic constitutional rights like equal protection of the laws and freedom of speech.
The charge of “lacks flexibility” often comes with the observation that Hawaii consists of Islands or Hawaii has more English-as-second-language speakers than other places. In some places in the United States, educators demand more flexibility because many schools are small and in rural places. Other places want flexibility because schools are urban with a heterogeneous population of many subgroups. To me, this sounds like any imaginable difference counts as an excuse to avoid accountability.
In the Friday debate, and elsewhere, Lingle gave a combination of some standard excuses commingled with innovative answers. One wonders, however, if she can bring about any real changes. Lingle talked at length about changing the testing. This is a subtle claim that Hawaii public schools have no real problems and are merely misdiagnosed by errant testing systems. Several independent facts contradict this. About 1/3 of the parents think that the public schools are so bad that they are willing to pay large sums for private schools or to home school their children themselves. This is the highest in the country. The 2004 SAT scores, which is a national standard test, showed that Hawaii was the worst state in the country.
Lingle’s campaign boastings about her accomplishments are the most telling. She claims credit for developments in charter schools, but Jim Shon, the statewide charter school director, was sacked on September 7 in a closed door meeting by the democratic dominated, DOE controlled school board. Lingle cannot develop charter schools efficiently when her appointees are fired on a whim by democratic controlled legislative bodies. She will further not be able to achieve her other innovative plan of 90% of the funds going to the classroom. The democratic controlled teachers’ union in collaboration with the democratic dominated state legislature will shut her down.
Most confusing are Lingle’s statements about designating 112 million dollars to Hawaii schools. Lingle has stated numerous times that the problems at the DOE cannot be solved by throwing money at the problem, then she uses her $6 million campaign war chest to run TV and print ads boasting about how she threw money at the problem.
The best way to achieve Lingle’s educational goals of accountability, viable options like charter schools, and getting our moneys worth cannot be found in Lingle. If more republican legislators were elected, there might be fewer politicians bought out by the teachers’ union and therefore politicians who are free to do what is best for Hawaii. If Bob Hogue or Noah Hough were elected to Congress, they could get around the whole democratic blockade by simply making sure NCLB threats are carried out, “fix it or we will shut you down.” The democratic and union monopolies would be far more willing to change if they were about to lose their cash cow. (On this issue, Cynthia Thielen is a disappointment because she totally missed the argument that Senator Dan Akaka, the great educator, has failed to do anything for education.)
The best solution to education, therefore, lies in Iwase’s criticism of Lingle selling her soul for her $6 million campaign chest. If Hawaii wants real changes, we should not donate to Lingle, the Hawaii Republican Party (which is Lingle’s alter ego), or Lingle’s stalking horse candidate Cynthia Thielen. Republicans, Independents, and change minded Democrats should donate and support other Republican state and national candidates. Lingle has a few good ideas, but these can only manifest if Lingle does not suck up all the campaign money so other candidates can have a voice and get into office.
Mark Beatty MA, THM, PHD, MBA, JD practices law in Kaneohe Hawaii (www.tbadk.com). He was formerly a Republican candidate for the US Senate in Hawaii (www.electmarkbeatty.com) For Mark’s other articles see www.bestideashawaii.com.