The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is one of only two statewide public education system in the United States (Puerto Rico being the other). The school district can be thought of as analogous to the school districts of other cities and communities in the United States, but in some manners can also be thought of as analogous to the state education agencies of other states. As the official state education agency, the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education oversees all 283 public schools and charter schools and over 13,000 teachers in the State of Hawaiʻi. It serves approximately 185,000 students annually. The HIDOE is currently headed by Superintendent Christina Kishimoto (since Aug. 1, 2017). The department is headquartered in the Queen Liliuokalani Building in Honolulu CDP, City and County of Honolulu on the island of Oahu.
Kamehameha III established Hawaii's first public education system on October 15, 1840. This makes the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education the oldest school system in the US west of the Mississippi River, and only system established by a sovereign monarch. This date denotes when the constitution came into effect, codifying the new ministry of education. The regent of Kamehameha III, Queen Emma, had ordered the establishment of free public schools in all districts in 1834 and this was done by 1836.
The Board of Education members are appointed by the Governor of Hawaii and must be confirmed by the Hawaii State Senate. This is in contrast to most other school districts in the United States which are directly elected. Members are appointed for three year terms for a maximum of three terms.
The school district has the following positions in its Board of Education. Positions:
The Board also has a student member and a military liaison.
The Board of Education is empowered by the State Constitution (Article X, Section 3 ) to formulate statewide education policy. The Board also has the power to appoint the Superintendent of Education as the chief executive officer of the system. The Superintendent reports to and can be terminated by the Board.
The State Department of Education currently carries suggested benchmarks for each educational grade and subject which are available on its website. However, a law creating a standard state public school curriculum, the first of its kind in Hawaii, did not pass during the 2006 legislative session.
Probably the most current and controversial debate over Hawaiʻi school reform has to do with the structure of the State Department of Education: specifically, whether it should remain centralized or be broken into smaller districts. The main rationale usually given for the current centralized model is equity in distribution of resources: all schools are theoretically funded from the same pool of money on an equitable basis. (Most schools on the U.S. Mainland are organized into school districts funded from local property taxes; thus more affluent school districts theoretically receive more money and resources than less affluent areas.) Supporters of decentralization see it as a means of moving decision-making closer to the classroom, and thus achieving better student performance.
The debate divides roughly along party lines, with Republicans generally supporting decentralization and the Democrats supporting the centralized status quo. In 2002, Republican Governor Linda Lingle ran on a campaign to reorganize the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education into smaller school districts that were localed modeled after a system found in Canada. The Democrat-controlled Hawaiʻi State Legislature, however, voted not to enact this plan in 2003 and 2004.
In October 2009, the Hawaiʻi Department of Education agreed to a furlough program for Hawaiʻi's public schools that reduced the number of instructional days by 17 days to a total of 163 days. This is the smallest number of instructional days anywhere in the United States.
The state-wide system is divided into seven Districts; each District subdivided into Complex Areas; each Complex Area includes at least one Complex; and each Complex comprises high schools and the middle and elementary schools that feed into them. These are:
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