HONOLULU – HONOLULU (AP) — A new Hawaii law enacted Tuesday requires at least 180 school days a year as the state tries to shed its reputation for having the shortest amount of instructional time in the nation.
The law prevents the state from cutting the school year below 180 days due to budget cuts, which is what happened when teachers were furloughed on 17 instructional days during the recently ended school year.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the state's acting governor while Gov. Linda Lingle is traveling in Asia, signed the measure into law Tuesday. Hawaii was the only state in the nation that didn't have a law setting a minimum amount of instructional time.
"If you're looking at what happened this past school year, I don't think it can be repeated again now that we have this minimum," the Republican lieutenant governor said. "That's taken care of by this law."
Island students attend class for an average of 4 hours and 43 minutes per day, behind the 5 1/2 hours per day and 990 hours per year of instructional time in most states, which already have 180 school days.
Hawaii's 180-day minimum begins in the 2011-2012 school year, after the state and teachers union negotiate a new contract. The upcoming school year will have 178 instructional days.
In addition to setting a minimum number of class days, the law also mandates annual instructional time. Elementary schools are required to offer 915 hours a year, and middle and high schools will have to offer 990 hours.
Starting in 2013, all schools must expand instructional time to 1,080 hours, according to the law.
The past school year's closures arose from a labor contract approved in October that furloughed teachers and cut their pay as the state faced a $1 billion budget shortfall.
"It took this crisis for us to say, 'Enough is enough,'" said Melanie Bailey, a parent of a sixth-grader, who pushed for the law. "A situation like furloughs can never happen again, and we will never negotiate with our children's education."
The contract had also called for 17 furlough days in the upcoming school year, but those days off were restored when the governor, the teachers union, lawmakers and local banks struck a deal costing up to $67 million using mostly state government money.
Acting Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said educators will work to ensure that the added school time is well spent.
"It is also a question of quality, as well as quantity of time," she said.
Asking teachers to work longer hours may cost the state more money when it negotiates a new contract with the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Those negotiations are scheduled to begin this summer.
The bill is HB2486.