• All 256 public schools in state to close for 'furlough Fridays'
• Up to 171,000 children to be affected
• Schools to go to 163 day calendar …the same as Year ‘Round Concept 6 in LAUSD
• President Obama’s primary school impacted …but it’s safe to assume that the exclusive Punahou School, his alma mater, will be unaffected
from the ICOPE e-newsletter | Independent Commission On Public Education In New York City
25 October - Thousands of working parents in Hawaii are scrambling to make childcare arrangements ahead of the closure on Friday of all public schools, in a bid by the state's education authorities to cut costs.
All 256 of Hawaii's public schools will be closed in the first of 17 "furlough Fridays" that will see a drastic cut in school time for up to 171,000 children. The reduction of the school week from five to four days will last for at least the next two years.
The furloughs are the most draconian measure yet taken in the US, where the recession has forced many states to slash public services. At least 25 states have forced teachers to take unpaid days off, but most of the cuts have fallen on holidays or on preparation days rather than on actual school days.
Hawaii's cuts have been particularly punishing because unlike other parts of the US, the entire education budget is paid for by the state which is labouring under a $1bn deficit. Education accounts for about a quarter of the state's overall resources.
Most of its 13,000 public school teachers approved the furlough Friday plan because although they must swallow an 8% reduction in their pay packages, their time off for holidays and teacher planning days is left untouched. A proposal to bring in random drug testing for teachers has also been pushed back.
The first of the furloughs, however, are likely to be greeted by widespread protests from parents angered that a state that is already towards the bottom of America's league table for schools performance is further slashing facetime in the classroom. The Hawaiian school year is the shortest across the country. Yet the cuts will reduce the number of teaching days in the academic year to 163 compared with 180 in most US school districts. Hawaii is ranked 47th out of 50 in reading and mathematics among its 13-year-old public school students.
A further paradox is that the Hawaii cuts come at a time when President Obama - himself a product of the Hawaiian education system, though he attended a private school in his later years - is trying to increase the amount of time American children spend in school. "The challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom," he said recently.
Parents at Noelani Elementary, the primary school Obama went to, will be staging one of many "walk-in" protests culminating with a rally at the state Capitol in downtown Honolulu.
A Noelani parent, Vernadette Gonzalez, told the Honolulu Advertiser: "Since education is being taken away, we thought it would be symbolic when the schools are being shut down by the state to say, 'We want to learn'. My daughter doen't understand why she has no school on Friday."
At least one legal action is likely to be lodged with the federal courts in an attempt to stop the furloughs on behalf of the children and parents affected.
Parents protest Hawaii school closures
By MARK NIESSE, Associated Press Writer
Fri Oct 23 - HONOLULU – Hundreds of angry parents protested Hawaii's statewide public school shutdown Friday, saying their children are losing out on education due to government budget cuts.
Hawaii closed 256 public schools Friday, the first of 17 teacher furlough days planned for this school year, giving the island state the shortest school year in the nation at 163 days. Most states have 180 school days.
While the parents waved signs and passed petitions at the state Capitol rally, their children wrote postcards to lawmakers and drew posters at arts and crafts tables.
The protesters, many of them bused in from schools across Oahu, formed a sea of yellow shirts with the message, "My Child Left Behind," a play on the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.
Hawaii musician Jack Johnson and entertainer Ben Vereen offered support with a few songs.
"There has to be a better solution than furloughing our kids," said Kathy Makuakane, who carried a sign saying: "You are furloughing our future."
Even her 8-year-old son, Jesse, agreed that he'd rather be in school at Kaelepulu Elementary.
"I don't really like it. I have a lot of fun in school most of the time," he said.
Organizers said the demonstration was meant to show elected leaders they shouldn't make children suffer for a lack of financial planning as the state faces a $1 billion projected shortfall over the next 20 months.
"I hope this raises awareness that people of Hawaii care about education, and we can do something about it," said Vernadette Gonzalez, who helped coordinate the protest. "It's a lack of imagination that keeps us back."
Many hope the state will make education a priority by raising taxes or dipping into emergency funds to restore Hawaii's school year. But those potential solutions, especially raising taxes, may prove unpopular among legislators looking to get re-elected.
Some teachers used their day off to show their support for parents who would rather put them back to work. The furloughs amount to an 8 percent pay cut for teachers.
"Education should be among the last things cut," said Jennifer Parson, an eighth-grade English teacher at Kalakaua Middle School. She carried a sign declaring, "I should be taking roll right now. No more furlough days."
"We're all having the same economic crisis, but other places have way more education days," said Sunny Yoon, whose 7-year-old son is a 2nd grader at Noelani Elementary, where President Barack Obama attended kindergarten. "Education is the most important thing. We pay a lot of taxes, and our children should get an education."
The loss of education will have unintended consequences, with more children being left alone and thus able to get into trouble, parent Jason McKinley said.
"They're unsupervised. They're left on the street," McKinley said. "What do you think is going to happen? It's like taking 10 steps backward."
Community organizations and daycare centers stepped up their efforts to help families unprepared for their kids' unexpected day off. They prepared for extra enrollment on teacher furlough days, but early reports showed that fewer parents than expected took advantage.
Central Pacific Bank dedicated several rooms for daycare services where employees could drop off their children for $15. The space at company headquarters was filled with computers, games, toys and movies.
"Employees wanted to help their fellow employees with a problem they had," said Karen Street, the bank's human resources director. "Parents are still sorting through all of it."