Lowell Kalapa, executive director and president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, wrote to us in response to our recent post about Hawaii incorporating its Race to the Top goals into the state’s education strategic plan. We were positively impressed by the idea that Hawaii intended to continue to pursue those goals, whether or not it got any Race to the Top money.
But Kalapa has some interesting thoughts about the feasibility of the goals set forth in the first place. He wrote:
I am a little surprised that you . . . were impressed with Hawaii’s effort to secure the Race for the Top money . . . While they have set outcomes, they are pretty lofty and given the current state of affairs in education, those goals may be very challenging to achieve. As you may or may not know, Hawaii adopted a plan of “furlough Fridays” as a way to cut expenditures in education. There will be 17 furlough Fridays this year where no classes will be held and a planned 17 for next year. Hawaii will have the shortest school year in the nation. This does not make parents happy . . .
“In large part many of the challenges facing the Department of Education stem from a dysfunctional elected Board of Education which allows the buck to be passed from the Board to the legislature to the Governor, none of whom seem to want to shoulder the responsibility (read blame) for the sorry state of affairs. Layer on top of that a powerful teachers’ union and you have all the fixin’s for a failing system. Despite accounting for more than half of the state’s general fund operating budget, the Department of Education has failed to meet the standards imposed by ‘No Child Left Behind.'”
Kalapa reminds us that sticking something in a strategic plan won’t get it accomplished without strong managerial leadership, political backing, and the constitutional wherewithal for change. In a followup conversation, Kalapa explained that the governor and legislature make the budgetary decisions, but the Board of Education—which is not appointed by the governor—makes the managerial decisions, a situation that three former Hawaiian governors have pushed to reform in order to better align funding and management decisions.
“When you talk about the Race to the Top goals,” Kalapa says, “it is going to be hard to get there because I don’t see the collaborative efforts—the teacher’s union, the support staff, the legislature, the governor, and the school board.”