Ige: DOE budget cuts won’t be as steep as anticipated

While the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will require the state Department of Education to make wide-ranging budget cuts during the next year, those cuts might be less extensive than initially thought.

In December, the state Board of Education approved a 10% budget cut for the DOE during the 2021-23 fiscal biennium, a reduction of $164.2 billion.

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However, on Thursday, Gov. David Ige announced that thanks to additional federal funds and “more optimistic revenue projections by the Council on Revenues,” the cut will be reduced to 2.5%, lowering the budget reduction to only $41.2 million.

“This represents about $123 million dollars that we can now restore to our public school classrooms so our students can be set on the path to prosperity and success,” said Ige’s brief statement Thursday.

DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she was pleased to hear the news during a Board of Education meeting Thursday.

Under the 10% cut, the department was bracing for a loss of more than 1,000 school positions — including nearly 800 teachers — and many school programs and services throughout the state.

However, the announcement also requires the department to once again reconsider its budget for the next fiscal biennium.

While much of Thursday’s board meeting was set aside to discuss the 10% cut and its impacts on the school year, Ige’s impromptu announcement rendered most of those planned discussions irrelevant — the board’s Finance Committee chose to defer to a later meeting a discussion on how to use $183.6 million in federal relief funds allocated to the DOE.

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Even with budget cuts being significantly reduced, the department could still face layoffs. Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee, who testified during the Finance Committee’s meeting Thursday, warned that even with Ige’s announcement more than 700 teachers could still be laid off.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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