The state Department of Education is expected to issue its plans on how classes will run for the new school year on Thursday. But lawmakers say they are deeply concerned about the DOE’s lack of a clear financial proposal for the fall reopening.
Nearly all of the 76 legislators signed a letter to the Board of Education last week calling for an emergency meeting of its finance committee.
Lawmakers say a recent survey showed many students failed to benefit from distance learning classes that were held when the schools were closed because of COVID-19.
“With school starting for students on August 4, we needed a clear plan to move forward to make sure that distance learning is more meaningful," said state Rep. Nadine Nakamura of Kauai.
"When we saw the data that described 10% of the students without internet connection, many students without the hardware, even if they had internet connection, and then the need to train our teachers to teach in this new format, there was just a clear need to do something, to get our resources and to prepare the community, our teachers and our students for a new school year.”
Nakamura spoke at a press conference last week when officials led by Senate President Ron Kouchi announced a distance learning pilot program for Kauai using over a million dollars in private funding.
Starting in August, schools will be provided with internet access, Wi-Fi hotspots and hardware for students.
Teachers would be trained to teach other instructors on how best to hold classes online. The pilot would then be evaluated and possibly developed as a model for other islands.
School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto rejected lawmakers criticism that her department failed to lay out a clear plan for the school year.
"A month before schools are set to reopen, Hawaii’s legislators have allocated zero dollars from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, from which we had sought $111 million to support public school students during this unprecedented crisis. By comparison, Colorado directed $547 million of its federal CRF funds to its K-12 public school system and Arizona allocated $270 million of its fund to public schools," the superintendent said in a statement.
"We have repeatedly articulated to lawmakers our needs, initially focusing on emergency school closures, remote learning and telework, summer learning, and now reopening in the fall — all while keeping students and employees safe."
Read the lawmakers' letter and the DOE's request for CARES Act funding below.