One aspect of life in Hawaii that has remained unchanged through the pandemic is the looming threat of budget cuts in education. This is not for no reason: education gobbles up a substantial chunk of the state budget, consistently comprising one of the three largest government expenses in the state every year. It’s sensible, then, to look to the Department of Education for fat to trim in fiscally perilous circumstances.
This time around, however, there’s a new wrinkle to the discussion: pay differentials for Hawaiian language teachers, special education teachers, and teachers who work in remote school districts.
These additional salary bumps range anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 per year, and went into effect in January 2020 — right before the pandemic hit.
In a Feb. 9 letter to school leaders, DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wrote that these pay differentials have “produced the desired and intended effect of lowering vacancy and retention rates for these high-need areas,” but we “can no longer afford,” them so there is “no choice but to discontinue these shortage differential payouts.”
Trying times call for re-evaluation, and it’s reasonable to scrutinize these pay differentials. If expenses can’t be justified, then perhaps they deserve to be on the chopping block.
But it’s crude analysis to think they are merely a function of some rudimentary supply-and-demand bargain. That’s not entirely untrue, but it is incomplete. The real question is why these are hard positions to fill in the first place, and why they require additional incentive…