We have an ed­u­ca­tion eq­uity emer­gency in Hawaii

The Maui News - - OPINION - DEB­O­RAH BOND-UPSON

This sum­mer, af­ter years of sup­port­ing leg­is­la­tion to bet­ter fund our schools,

Par­ents for Pub­lic

Schools of Hawai‘i set up a coali­tion to sup­port the ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing mea­sure for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to en­able the leg­is­la­ture to levy a prop­erty tax sur­charge on res­i­den­tial in­vest­ment prop­er­ties. We are re­dou­bling our ef­forts to reach vot­ers with the needs of our stu­dents and in­sight into how and why this type of tax is our best next step.

A su­per PAC, cyn­i­cally named “Af­ford­able Hawai‘i,” is strik­ing fear into our vot­ers with mis­lead­ing claims.

Claims to pro­tect low- and mid­dle-in­come tax­pay­ers while pro­tect­ing in­vestor prof­its is an ap­proach well-known to us na­tion­ally, but it is dis­tress­ing to see it here in Hawaii where we ex­pect com­mu­nity mem­bers to step up to our kuleana.

This well-funded su­per PAC may pro­tect in­vestor prof­its at the ex­pense of our pub­lic school chil­dren.

We have an ed­u­ca­tion eq­uity emer­gency in Hawaii. Chil­dren do not have equal ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

Pub­lic school stu­dents are suf­fer­ing, and stu­dents of color and in lower in­come de­mo­graph­ics are hurt most, with a more se­vere lack of qual­i­fied ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers and ef­fec­tive, safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments. Al­most 20 per­cent of our stu­dents statewide, and in Honolulu al­most 40 per­cent, go to pri­vate school. Fund­ing pub­lic schools ad­e­quately could en­able fam­i­lies to avoid the hard­ship of pri­vate school tu­itions on top of our high cost of liv­ing.

Our over-heated hous­ing mar­ket boasts the low­est prop­erty taxes in the U.S. Low prop­erty taxes make Hawaii prop­er­ties mag­nets for in­vest­ment from Main­land and for­eign in­vestors. De­vel­op­ers, in­vestors, Re­al­tors and cor­po­ra­tions have long prof­ited from the un­usual twin ben­e­fit of lower taxes plus higher com­pe­ti­tion, in­flat­ing val­ues. Rais­ing prop­erty taxes would bring equi­lib­rium, mak­ing homes and rents more af­ford­able to res­i­dents.

This well-funded su­per PAC is now run­ning ads to fight our ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing bal­lot mea­sure, claim­ing it will raise rents with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing that the com­mu­nity ben­e­fits from higher taxes on in­vest­ment prop­er­ties, in ad­di­tion to the school fund­ing.

It is time for us to stand up for pub­lic schools, at the same time re­duc­ing prof­i­teer­ing in our hous­ing mar­ket.

We, the vot­ers, have an op­por­tu­nity, af­ter decades of ne­glect, to fix this un­fair­ness, to pro­tect op­por­tu­ni­ties for all. With voter sup­port, we can en­sure the Leg­is­la­ture will im­ple­ment this mea­sure as in­tended with sur­charges only on res­i­den­tial in­vest­ment prop­erty val­ues at over $1 mil­lion in value.

Some folks say this mea­sure is flawed and we should try other ap­proaches. But all ap­proaches have down­sides, and most of them have al­ready been tried and failed. On bal­ance, these ob­jec­tions are self-serv­ing ex­cuses. We must pro­vide re­li­able funds to our schools and this is our chance. The money must come from some­where, and of the choices of how to do it, this so­lu­tion is the most eq­ui­table.

This mea­sure leaves specifics to the leg­is­la­tors. The vote is step one in es­tab­lish­ing re­li­able fund­ing for schools. With the strength of the vote, we will con­tinue to hold leg­is­la­tors to the clear in­tent of this mea­sure: ded­i­cate the rev­enue from this sur­charge to ed­u­ca­tion, in ad­di­tion to the cur­rent level of school fund­ing, and ap­ply the sur­charge to res­i­den­tial in­vest­ment prop­er­ties over $1 mil­lion.

Each year that we fail to fund our schools ad­e­quately, many stu­dents fall be­hind, many ir­re­triev­ably.

A vote against the ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing bal­lot mea­sure fa­vors more for­tu­nate, of­fand on-is­land prop­erty own­ers at the ex­pense of chil­dren of the mid­dle class and the poor.

We hope you will en­cour­age vot­ers to vote yes to fund ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for all Hawaii keiki.

Deb­o­rah Bond-Upson is a board mem­ber of Par­ents for Pub­lic Schools of Hawaii and leads the Fund Our Hawaii Schools Coali­tion which in­cludes or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­nity mem­bers work­ing to en­sure ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for all.

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