Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater

Friday, October 24, 2000








(1) Markrich, Mike. The crumbling of our public schools. Honolulu Advertiser. October 8, 2000. Focus Section.


(2) See 1998 State Data Book, Table 3.09 and the 1991 State Data Book, Table 82 and Historical Statistics of Hawaii, Table 9.3.

(3) Pers. comm. HAIS staff. People views of private school costs are strongly influenced by Punahou and Iolani. These are the most expensive schools averaging $10,000 annually but these two account for only 12% of the state’s 36,702 private school students. (See the HAIS website for individual school tuition and enrollment and the 1998 State Data Book for total private school students.)





(4) See Historical Statistics of Hawaii, pp. 641-2.


(5) See Historical Statistics of Hawaii, p. 642.

(6) See http://www.lava.net/cslater/HEDSTATS.gif Column 14.



(7) See http://www.lava.net/cslater/HEDSTATS.gif  Column 12.

(8) As of 1997 special ed. teachers were 13% of Hawaii’s 11,500 public school teachers. For 7% less students, there were only 7,700 teachers in 1975. See http://www.lava.net/cslater/HEDSTATS.gif


(9) http://www.hgea.org/  (click on endorsement postcards)


A crumbling of school facts

Don't blame private-school enrollment or state spending
for the decline in public education. Blame the unions.

Mike Markrich sheds valuable light on the difficulties public school teachers face in his  “The crumbling of our public schools” (10/8). However, some of his conclusions are incorrect.

He tells us that the upper and middle classes have largely abandoned public education in Hawaii and that their offspring have the best of everything in exclusive private schools while the majority of schoolchildren study in crowded, largely under maintained public school buildings. (1)

However, for nearly the last 100 years private school enrollment in Hawaii has varied between 15% and 18% and is currently 16.3% according to the State Data Book and historical statistics. (2) There has been no abandonment.

And aside from such schools as Punahou and Iolani, private schools are generally far less costly than public ones. The Hawaii Association of Independent Schools calculates that the statewide average private school tuition paid is $6,130 per student. (3)

We should dwell awhile on the idea that these private school students can have the best of everything for $6,130 per student while the rest study in crowded, largely under maintained public schools for $6,300 per student. Hmmm.

He also finds that former Governor Jack Burns was so supportive of education that in 1970 it was 50 percent of the state budget. But after Burns died in 1975, there was no longer a Democratic Party leader willing to put education first. He concludes that by the 1990s public education reached rock bottom because public education had sunk to an indifferent 31% of the overall budget. From this he concludes that we need much more money spent on education.

However, only 37% of Gov. Burns’ 1970 budget was spent education—not 50%. And while this has subsequently declined to 28% it is an error to conclude from this that education is under funded. (4) What has happened is that the rest of State government spending has bloated even faster than it has for education.

Public K-12 education spending has increased from $134 million in 1970 to over $1.2 billion today—for just 8% more students. (5) But the key statistic is what we have spent per student after allowing for inflation. It was $3,300 in 1970 and by 1995 had increased by 73% to $5,760. (6)

So rather than blaming those governors after Burns as being unwilling to spend on education we have to find something else to blame.

The biggest gains in teacher salaries were during what our high school textbooks refer to as The Oligarchy. Between 1920 and 1955 teacher salaries increased 300% even allowing for inflation. Compare that with the 15% decline since teachers were unionized and gained collective bargaining power.(7)

So—how could we be spending 73% more per student yet pay teachers 15% less? By bloating up on more staff and more bureaucrats (special-ed teachers are only a small part of it). (8)

This has happened because public worker union leaders are more interested in gaining members than they are in what those members earn or how qualified they are. More members mean more dues. More dues mean higher salaries for union leaders. This is what has stopped any real reform of public education including any real charter schools.

And as long as parents keep electing legislators endorsed by these union leaders nothing will change. (9)

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater