Teacher housing voucher bills advance in state Legislature

  • KISHIMOTO
  • HIRAI

Two bills that aim to improve teacher retention made it through the state Senate and now are before the state House for consideration.

Senate Bill 12 and Senate Bill 114 call for the creation of a housing voucher program for teachers employed by the state Department of Education or at public charter schools.

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The most recent draft of SB 12 would permit the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. to develop and implement the program for full-time teachers employed at hard-to-fill public schools, as defined by the DOE.

Each voucher will not exceed $500 per month and may be used toward rent or mortgage payments for the teacher’s primary residence.

If enacted, the bill also will require HHFDC to develop an application procedure and processes to implement the program, and to work with the DOE and state Public Charter School Commission to develop a verification process.

Both bills passed first reading in the House.

SB 12 was referred to the House’s Housing, Lower and Higher Education, and Finance committees.

It was recommended for approval with amendments by the Housing Committee on Tuesday. No other committee hearings were scheduled by Tuesday afternoon.

HHFDC Executive Director Craig Hirai said in testimony submitted for Tuesday’s Housing Committee hearing that the corporation does not have the appropriate staff and expertise to administer such a housing voucher program.

According to Hirai, HHFDC consulted with the Hawaii Public Housing Authority on its housing voucher program staffing and workload. That program has 22.5 full-time equivalent, federally-funded positions to process vouchers for approximately 1,722 families, he said.

“Presumably, there are fewer full-time teachers in hard-to-fill public or charter schools, so HHFDC would require a lesser, but commensurate number of positions and the associated General Fund appropriations for (personnel) services to staff this proposed teacher housing voucher program, on top of the appropriation of funds needed to fund the vouchers themselves,” Hirai wrote.

DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in submitted testimony that the department supports the measure and that housing subsidy vouchers can be a tool to increase teacher retention, especially in hard-to-fill geographic areas.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs said that because a substantial majority of hard-to-fill schools are located in rural regions with high concentrations of Native Hawaiian families, shortages of qualified teachers might particularly impact Native Hawaiian public school students.

“By providing housing incentives to full-time qualified teachers at such hard-to-fill schools, this measure’s proposed voucher program can serve as a much-needed tool to better meet the educational needs of Native Hawaiian students and their classmates,” OHA said in written testimony.

While the “hard-to-fill” requirement is not currently defined in the bill, a DOE spokeswoman said previously that the department uses similar terminology to award differential pay to licensed teachers working in schools that are difficult to staff.

As defined in the current Hawaii State Teachers Association contract, those are schools located in the Hana, Keaau, Lanai, Molokai, Ka‘u, Nanakuli, Pahoa and Waianae complexes.

SB 114, which includes further restrictions in its current version, was referred to the Lower and Higher Education and Finance committees but has not been scheduled for a committee hearing as of Tuesday.

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Neither bill currently includes an appropriation amount.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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