An effort to reform the length of the public school year and mandate how many instructional hours are provided to students received a lukewarm response from the teachers union during a hearing Friday before the Senate Education Committee.
Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe told committee members any change in the length of the school year or the amount of time students are instructed would fall under collective bargaining.
Under a bill (SB 2139) proposed by Education Chair Sen. Jill Tokuda and Vice-Chair Sen. Michelle Kidani, students at all grade levels would receive 990 instructional hours every school year.
After several minutes of questioning, Okabe said the HSTA is opposed to any mandate on instructional hours, and believes the issue should be negotiated.
"I think that we need to look at this particular bill to really look (at) collective bargaining as we go forward," he said.
Under Act 167 signed into law in 2010, kids go to school 180 days, excluding charter and multi-track schools. Children in all grades are supposed to receive 915 instructional hours every year. However, that will increase to 990 instructional hours from the 2014 school year through 2016. Another increase takes place from the 2016 to 2018 school years when all grades need to go to 1,080 instructional hours.
As it currently stands, all but 10 elementary schools are meeting the mandate of 915 instructional hours. But, that's not the case for middle schools and high schools, which are having a difficult time following the law.
That’s why the bill proposed by Tokuda and Kidani sets instructional hours at 990, while allowing the school board to define what constitutes an “instructional hour.”
"We don't want to create a class of have and have not’s when it comes to the amount of time that students are having learning opportunities," said Tokuda. “It’s not just about seat time, it’s about effective learning.”
Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by Ways and Means Chair Sen. David Ige (SB 2922) would lengthen the school year to 190 days beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. The bill also sets instructional hours at 990, while removing the mandate for 1,080 instructional hours beginning in 2016.
"I just thought that focusing on lengthening the school year might be more effective in terms of improving student learning," said Ige.
Nevertheless, whether it’s lengthening the school year, or mandating instructional hours, both proposals may come down to how much money the state is willing to spend.
Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi testified it takes millions of dollars for the DOE to operate 288 schools each and every day.
"It's about a little under $6 million per day for an additional instructional day to hold schools open," she said.
"The governor has mentioned, even in his ads, about the $800 plus million of surplus,” added Okabe, “surely it has to come into play."