Bill asks for direct help to families for learning expenses

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Households earning less than $50,000 a year with a student enrolled in a public K-12 school would be eligible to receive $1,000 in direct payments to be used for education expenses under a proposal passing through the Hawaii Legislature that attempts to offset some of the costs of the pandemic-related learning needs.

House Bill 1834, which authorized the Finance Committee on Friday, proposes a one-year pilot program to distribute one-time $1,000 grants to eligible households, with priority given to low-income families. The money could be used for expenses such as laptops, educational software, or therapy.

A companion Senate bill, SB 2816, is scheduled for a vote in the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday morning.

The House measure seeks a $5 million appropriation from the state’s general fund to launch the program with an initial group of 5,000 public school students. The program would be overseen by the Hawaii Department of Education, which would set up the grant application process.

The proposal is loosely based on a program that began on the island of Lanai last year and launched by the nonprofit education advocacy organization HawaiiKidsCAN. The program distributed approximately $11,000 in funds donated by outside groups to families to supplement their children’s learning needs with tutoring or software purchases.

Some lawmakers support the direct grant program, especially in more remote or rural areas such as Lanai where learning costs can pile up. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

David Miyashiro, executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, says the concept can be developed using public funds to help parents who have made additional financial investments in their children’s learning since the pandemic hit.

“Parents are looking for all the help they can get,” Miyashiro said. “It’s not uncommon for parents to contribute and pay for things. We think it might fill some of those pukas.

“It takes work away from schools,” he added.

The disruption of traditional in-person education by the pandemic has exposed the disparities in access to education. Challenges many students face include the lack of a digital device to participate in distance learning or unreliable internet connectivity at home, prompting the launch of a mobile “wifi on wheels” program in rural communities. from Hawaii.

Although most students will be back in mainstream schools this year, some education advocates say parents continue to face extra expenses to help their children catch up on learning loss due to the pandemic, including program or software costs, fees related to standardized testing or advancement Placement of exams or fees for behavior therapy or occupational therapy.

Some states in the United States have distributed grants to low-income families during the pandemic to help with education expenses, including in Oklahoma.

Idaho’s governor signed a bill on Tuesday that directs $50 million in federal Covid aid to distribute grants of up to $1,000 per student or $3,000 per family to spend on health needs. additional educational learning such as computers, internet and tutoring.

In 2020, HawaiiKidsCAN asked Governor David Ige to dedicate federal funds known as the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund for such a purpose.

But the petition garnered less than 400 signatures. Instead of accepting the proposal, Ige funneled most of the $10 million directly to Hawaii schools and colleges in the form of “innovation grants” of between $100,000 and $450,000. The money will be used for projects such as STEM education, after-school arts programming or leadership development.

Hawaii’s DOE spent $31 million to buy laptops and wifi devices in the first round of pandemic relief in 2020. It’s focusing its latest round of $412 million in relief received under the American Rescue Plan Act on social-emotional supports such as nurses and counselors. , summer school and coaching for teachers.

In testimony written for HB 1834, the DOE said eligible expenses are already covered by federal Covid aid to schools and questioned the full cost of extending that scope to potentially all low-income students. returned to Hawaii.

He projected that total cost at $79 million, based on the approximate number of DOE children eligible for a free or reduced lunch.

But HawaiiKidsCAN’s Miyashiro said the proposal can start as a much smaller pilot project and expand based on families’ needs and level of interest. There would be an application process and the grants would be administered by the DOE or a third party.

“We didn’t want to make a request that would represent a significant financial commitment for the state, given that at this precise moment, (it’s more important to establish) the model,” he said.

The House bill was introduced to the Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Committee and authorized the Education and Finance Committees. The Senate bill has been approved by the Education Committee and will be voted on by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

Lawmakers supporting the measure said the DOE should consider new ideas when it comes to supporting families who are shelling out more to help with their children’s education expenses since the pandemic.

“We’re just giving the DOE more money and hopefully they’ll do more things,” said state Rep. Troy Hashimoto, the Maui lawmaker who introduced the House bill.

“It forces the DOE to think a little differently,” he said.

State Representative Amy Perruso, who voted against the measure on the House Finance Committee, is concerned about the implications of outsourcing the task of administering funds and how the use of these funds would be monitored.

“It’s really dangerous ground because we would be abandoning oversight and regulation of these funds,” she said. “We are opening a Pandora’s box. You could legitimately meet these needs through the Ministry of Education.

Miyashiro stressed that this is not a voucher system in which families receive state money to spend on private lessons.

“A voucher uses public funds to pay for private tuition, and that wouldn’t be part of the program,” he said. “You cannot use it for school fees at Punahou (school). It wouldn’t be allowed.

He added that the use of funds could be monitored through a platform that lists pre-approved education providers so that money is not spent on inappropriate or irrelevant, non-educational purposes.

The program on Lanai has 140 participants. Some families have created small collaborative learning groups for their children, known as “microschools,” by pooling their grants and purchasing educational software through an online vendor called ClassWallet.

Funding of $11,000 for this program comes from donations from Pulama Lanai, the Atherton Family Foundation, and Teach for America’s Reinvention Lab.

“The idea of ​​the modules is to empower our parents to take charge of their (children’s) learning,” said program organizer Lisa Chin. “(They can) meet and talk about their kids’ goals and needs academically.”

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