Policy Brief

Hawaii Scrambles to Meet Race to Promises

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In the wake of the resounding defeat of a new teachers' union contract, Hawaii officials are scrambling to figure out how to comply with the promises they made to win a $75 million Race to the Top award.

In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, pledged to make good on his state's Race to the Top plan—with or without the help of the state teachers' union. To that end, he sent a bill to the legislature that would give the state the authority to create a teacher-evaluation system.

"We wanted to cross the Race to the Top finish line side-by-side with the [Hawaii State Teachers Association]. Make no mistake, we will cross that finish line," the governor said.

As recently as mid-January, the state appeared to be making significant strides in getting itself out of the doghouse with the U.S. Department of Education, which had placed Hawaii on "high-risk status" and threatened to take away its $75 million award. The state and the governing board of the HSTA had reached a tentative agreement on a new teacher-evaluation system based in part on student achievement, a key milestone that the state had missed, placing its award in jeopardy. But union members rejected the contract last month.

Even though Hawaii has experienced delays in implementing its Race to the Top plan across all areas, the federal Education Department is most concerned about stalled progress on teacher evaluations. In its Dec. 21 warning letter to Hawaii, the department wrote that the state doesn't have the "proper authority"—either in law, regulation, or contract—to even carry out its plan.

As a result of being placed on high-risk status, Hawaii will have to ask permission before accessing its remaining funds, or about $71 million, and must submit extensive monthly reports about that progress. The Education Department, as soon as late March, expects to send a team to Hawaii to examine its Race to the Top progress.

"Our goal is to have clear and compelling evidence for the [Education Department] that shows we have the legal authority to implement these reforms," said Stephen Schatz, the assistant superintendent for strategic reform at the Hawaii education department.

Vol. 31, Issue 19, Page 16

Published in Print: February 1, 2012, as Hawaii Scrambling For Ways to Satisfy RTT Commitments
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