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An Economic Issue

Karen Ginoza, president, Hawaii State Teachers Association

“A fully qualified teacher for every student,” has become something of a mantra for the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA). It was the union’s key talking point through the only statewide teachers’ strike in the nation in 2001. “The system is broken, the system is not working,” says Karen Ginoza, HSTA president.

The HSTA has gone on the offensive this year and kicked off 2002 by announcing its “Blueprint for Public Education in Hawaii” in January. The blueprint is divided into four broad areas:

A properly funded school system; a fully qualified teacher for every student; safe, adequate and functional schools; and basic standards for all schools.

The only place the word “accountability” shows up in the blueprint is under the heading of a properly funded school system. “The Legislature should fund the Department of Education, but not run the Department of Education. The Department must be given autonomy, so it can make the necessary educational decisions and be held accountable for those decisions,” the document reads. But Ginoza maintains that the teachers are interested in measurable outcomes.

She mentions graduation rates, test scores and funding as some possible tangibles. She is firm in her conviction that teachers have not been supported, even though the line level responsibility for implementing the new standards is theirs, to the point of causing severe burnout. “They don’t have the additional time that they need in order to plan. Any time you want to do something new, something innovative, teachers need the time to plan, but they are the ones in the classroom,” says Ginoza.

The blueprint makes several suggestions for school funding including, a constitutional amendment giving the Board of Education the power to raise funds, applying additional federal funds and raising state taxes. Ginoza points to past research indicating that the public is in favor of raising taxes if the money is dedicated to education.

“I’m still an optimist. If not, I would not still be at this job,” says Ginoza. “You have to see education as a way to bring about change. That’s what we’re all about, to bring about change, not for change’s sake, but change for the improvement of the lives of our people.”

Ginoza believes that nonteachers who participated in HSTA’s “Back to School Hawaii” day and spent an entire day as a classroom teacher tell it all. In evaluations after spending a full school day with a class of children, 71 percent said teachers were underpaid, 89 percent said facilities needed to be improved and 64 percent said students needed more access to technology.

The union has refined its message for the masses. Just read the first two sentences of the blueprint: “Hawaii’s public schools must be funded as a matter of economic necessity as well as social responsibility.

“Hawaii’s public schools represent the single most effective investment the State of Hawaii can make in order to create the educated labor and consumer base necessary to attract and maintain a diversified economy.”

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Hawaii Business,March