West Hawaii schools likely to feel Title I fund boost


All 20 West Hawaii public schools will likely benefit from the more than $45 million the state is receiving next school year to provide extra support and resources for the neediest of students, said West Hawaii Complex Area Superintendent Art Souza.

Speaking from Memphis, Tenn., Souza called Wednesday’s announcement about allocation of Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title I money “great news.” He said there has been this push “to reinvent education by making it more effective, efficient and rigorous,” as well as by “pushing for higher expectations and excellence.” Meanwhile, schools have been operating with “fiscal austerity” and “far less resources” than years prior, he added.

“Schools have been addressing budget concerns by eliminating positions and cutting expenses. This money will hopefully bring a quantum leap of change, even if it’s only enough money to boost our schools back to where we were three or four years ago. This money means there’s an opportunity to possibly restore some of the staffing and tutoring programs that were cut back.”

An example of how the Title I funding may be used in West Hawaii is restoring part-time teacher positions to work closely with regular classroom teachers in target assistance and schoolwide programs that maximize the continuity of instruction of the neediest students, particularly migrant or English language learners and those with disabilities. The funding could also be used for services like tutoring, Souza said.

Commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, ESEA is intended to help pay for programs at schools where a disproportionate number of students live in poverty.

“Too many of Hawaii’s most talented students are depressed by poverty at a time when their focus should be on their education and personal development,” said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, whose office announced the funding Wednesday. “These funds are essential to supporting the hardworking teachers, faculty and staff at Hawaii’s Title I schools. These educators are entrusted with the critical mission of helping our young people realize their talent and pursue their ambitions.”

The number of Hawaii public schools eligible for Title I money increased to 186 in 2011 from 161 in 2008. On the Big Island, all but one school — DeSilva Elementary in the North Hilo Complex, are Title I, said Sandy Goya, state Department of Education spokeswoman.

Three years ago, there were only 15 West Hawaii Title I schools. Because of the troubled economy, which resulted in many people losing jobs or homes and other hardships, more local families have qualified for the decades-old safety-net program that provides subsidized lunches for students, Souza said. He claimed the number of West Hawaii students receiving free or reduced lunches has risen and “it’s more than incremental growth.” However, he did not have the exact figures Wednesday.

Title I is designed to help at-risk students served by the program to achieve proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards by providing them extra resources. Schools with percentages of low-income students of at least 35 percent may use Title I funds, along with other federal, state and local fund to upgrade instructions programs schoolwide.

The children benefiting are living in households at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. In Hawaii, that means a family of four earning no more than $46,916 in 2011. Nearly 47 percent of all Hawaii public school students last year qualified for free or reduced-cost lunches, a key indicator of poverty.

“Title I is a formula, not a competitive grant,” Goya said. “Schools with 35 percent or higher free or reduced-priced meal students are eligible to receive Title I funds.”

Souza explained schools with a greater student population on free or reduced lunch, such as Hookena and Honaunau Elementary Schools, will receive more funding than those like Holualoa Elementary. Exact percentages of students receiving subsidized lunches at West Hawaii schools were unavailable as of press time.

“One of the most distressing aspects of the economic downturn of the past few years has been a reduction in spending for our schools and our students,” said U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. “Education is the greatest investment our nation can make in our future and it is also the key that will open the doors of opportunity for our youth. This Title I funding will help at-risk elementary and secondary students across Hawaii achieve more in school and in their lives, and reflects our commitment to education and our young people.”