Islanders shouldn’t be taxed extra for teacher bonuses

Governor David Ige offered the Hawaii State Teachers Union a 1 percent bonus for two years, but union leaders have been saying it’s not enough, contending that island teachers cannot afford Hawaii’s high cost of living.

According to the teachers union, starting salary for a public school teacher in Hawaii is $46,601, which is on the low end compared to cities on the east and west coasts.

However, the average public school teacher in Hawaii makes $57,431, which is higher than teachers in 33 other states.

In addition, state taxpayers foot the majority of the bill for teacher’s health insurance, retirement and other post employment benefits. When average state benefits are included, Hawaii teacher pay rises to $79,328 on average, which is well above the salary and benefits for teachers nationally.

Of course, it’s important to adjust for Hawaii’s high cost of living, and doing so drops Hawaii teacher wages and benefits to ninth lowest in the nation, at $62,316.

But non-government workers in Hawaii make even less on average, at $43,544 in annual pay and benefits adjusted for cost of living, which ranks as the lowest compensation in in the nation.

It’s true that some teachers might be due for extra money, but that goal needs to be balanced with the need for all Hawaii citizens to advance and prosper. Cutting out waste from the state Department of Education could be a good place to begin finding creative ways of incentivizing new teachers.

After all, every teacher knows the DOE has many areas of wasteful spending, from highly paid consultants to long after-school meetings that take away from instructional time. Millions of dollars are wasted every year on new curriculums and administrative programs from the state and federal levels.

Performing a full-scale audit of the $2 billion budget of the state DOE might be a good place to start looking for ways to cut spending so more money can be freed up for those teachers who deserve a raise.

However, proposals have been submitted to the legislature that would take more money from taxpayers to pay for teacher pay raises. The new tax plans could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and take money away from Hawaii families.

It’s not fair to tax island residents more when the average private sector worker already makes so much less than the average public school teacher. Adding taxes would only add to Hawaii’s astronomically high cost of living.

Before raising taxes for bigger teacher paychecks, it’s important to remember that private school teachers are paid less for a starting salary, but get better results.

Starting salary for private school teachers in Hawaii averages $41,600, which is much lower than public school starting salaries. Yet private schools get much better results than public schools.

Clearly, it may be time to admit that more spending on education doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. However, there is a way to incentivize teachers and get better educational outcomes without raising taxes.

For example, Hawaii pays $14,434 per public school student. What if a portion of that money could be given back to parents in the form of an Education Savings Account? Then, that money could be spent by parents on educational programs of their choice such as private schools, public schools, charter schools, online schools or private tutors.

For example, if $10,000 were given to back to parents to spend on education, $4,000 would still be left in the public school classroom. In this way, public school class sizes would be reduced, and per-pupil spending would increase.

This solution would raise more money for both public and private students, provide more educational choices for parents, while keeping taxes low. So far, Education Savings Accounts are being started in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi.

There are many creative ways to inspire quality teachers, without raising taxes. Citizens, lawmakers, teachers and parents must work together to find a solution in the best interest of Hawaii’s children.

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