The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, October 7, 2018 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section. Two students weigh in on the constitutional amendment question: “Shall the legislature be authorized to establish, as provided by law, a surcharge on investment real property to be used to support public education?
By: Xavier Tablit
Pahoa High and Intermediate School, Class of 2020
Upon looking at the ballot question, the theoretical benefits seem quite evident. Hawaii’s keiki do need help in public education. However, it would not do anyone justice by instituting a law without first analyzing how individuals who will pay for or receive funding will be affected. The bill is not an endeavor worth pursuing because the government does not need to find more ways to acquire money, but needs better ways to distribute it.
Firstly, the Department of Education ́s system to calculate and approve funding for public schools is based on a weighted student formula. Schools’ enrollment numbers are the baseline determinant of how much funding each school receives. It is not until after does student needs and characteristics like economic hardship become weighed for additional funding. This system puts smaller schools across the state like Pahoa High and Intermediate at a disadvantage. Even though extra funding exists, it is still insufficient for schools with a lower student enrollment and compared to larger schools with bigger enrollment. According to Hawaii Public Schools.org, the per-pupil funding for Department schools was $12,855. Although this is higher than the national average, students still struggle here at home. This shows that the government needs to change and allocate more of the money that they have already acquired from our taxpayers to our public schools, instead of taking more money from the public through meaningless taxation.
Secondly, the surcharge on investment property is actually very unfair to some citizens of this state because it will affect rental rates. Proponents of the bill argue that its passage would equate to many benefits for our keiki. Many are excited by the prospect of improving the learning environment of our students by provide them with classroom tools, such as books and computers. Furthermore, many are in support of taxing investment real properties. These types of properties, mostly homes or real estate used to generate income via rentals, are criticized for catering to nonresidents of Hawaii.
However, the most important people who do rent are our very own residents of Hawaii. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition stated that the hourly wage needed to rent an average two-bedroom space on Oahu is $32.50. With 67% of the state’s population residing on Oahu, housing is both expensive and competitive. People who rent do not even make half of the money that is required to rent a home - the average wage of renters in Hawaii is just $15.64. Although the surcharge will be targeting those who own vacation rentals, it will also affect landlords who own property that are most likely being rented by the working class. Adding this surcharge to investment properties will further increase the rates of those who rent those houses and make it more expensive for citizens of this state to live, let alone survive. It is unfair for the workforce, a continuously struggling population, to bear the burden of providing for another struggling group - our students.
All in all, our schools are underfunded, but a bill to increase property taxes is not the way to go. It is the government that must change the system that dictates the way that money is allocated to our schools. Without changing the per-pupil budget of our students, we will soon find ourselves in the same predicament where our schools are underfunded and the quality of a learning environment diminished. If the government can redistribute the money more effectively and allow more money into our public schools we keep all, from students to our taxpayers, happy.