Is Hawaii ready for Appointed School Boards?

The constitutional amendment receiving the most attention this election is one of the more trickier questions to answer.  Hawaii has had an elected Board of Education (BOE) since 1968.  Passed by both the House and Senate of the Hawaii legislature in May of this year, HB2376 seeks to eliminate the long-standing tradition of an elected BOE and instead create a governor appointed board.  The issue has stirred up some familiar political debates between proponents and opponents alike.  Today we’ll take a look at what the amendment means for Hawaii and a few arguments for both sides.

HB2376 is aimed at revising the current Hawaii constitution, in particular, Sec. 1; Article X; section 2.  The current language created an elected BOE and stipulated what positions were to be created and the requirements for each.  For the last 48 years an elected BOE has been the standard practice.  There has been many attempts by both Democrats and Republicans to either abolish the BOE, change its responsibilities, or eliminate the aspect of an elected board.  HB2376 is aimed at the latter.  A yes vote for the amendment would change the BOE from its currently voter elected format, to a Governor appointed position with consideration from the Hawaii Senate.

The Department of Education as well as the elected Board of Education has been a hot button issue over the past year.

Supporters point to a streamlined process in which the Governor will be allowed to work with the State Senate to fill board vacancies.  They argue that the current election system does not work since most voters have little, if any, knowledge of the candidates running for the BOE.  Supporters point to a large number of blank votes as reinforcement of this claim.  However, opponents argue the voter apathy is largely due to a lack of media coverage afforded to BOE candidates.  They also argue these blank votes show the frustrations of the electorate and the lack of worthy candidates.  Supporters also argue an appointed board will bring a sense accountability.  Many in the state have looked for someone to place blame for the recent furloughs and short-comings within the public school system.  An appointed school board would place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Governor who appointed the board.  Currently the blame is shifted from the executive branch to the legislature to the Department of Education and to the BOE.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to take responsibility.  However, opponents note that the appointment process does little to raise the level of accountability since it still requires the State Senate to work with the Governor to appoint the board.  Many fear political games being played by either side with little real results afterwards.  This may be all too poignant after the previous eight years of a Republican Governor fighting with the Democratic controlled legislature.  It would be easy for either side to blame the other if the BOE were to make mistakes.

At the end of the day it is important for everyone to come to the table and find a middle ground.  It is agreed that a problem exists.  We are having a difficulty in finding a palatable solution for both sides.  Something needs to be changed.  School furloughs were an embarrassment for the state of Hawaii and set our keiki back even further.  Regardless of where you may stand on the issue, please be sure to educate yourself on what our keiki need and support initiatives aimed at improving their overall ability to succeed.  Whether this means voting yes on this issue or voting no, all of it becomes moot if our society fails to support the children.

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