Hawaii is closer to tapping its Hurricane Relief Fund to help balance the state budget and resolve teacher furloughs, as a legislative committee advanced a bill that would appropriate $50 million from the fund.
Senate Bill 2124, which is now headed for review by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, notes that reductions and restrictions to the Department of Education’s operating budget of more than $49 million for 2009-2010 and more than $226 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, have resulted in the loss of 17 instructional days for 10-month non-charter public school students, and 21 instructional days for 12-month, noncharter public school students in the two school years.
“The legislature finds that an appropriation of Hawaii hurricane relief funds is necessary to maintain an essential level of programs and resources to provide Hawaii students with a quality education,” the bill text states.
The state Board of Education has supported tapping to fund to help reduce school budget cuts.
Following Hurricane Iniki that struck the islands in 1992, the state implemented the Hurricane Relief Fund as a state-based emergency fund. However, payments into the fund were discontinued in 2001, and the fund is estimated to be worth approximately $180 million today.
State Insurance Commissioner J.P. Schmidt has cautioned against tapping the fund, noting it is supposed to help the state should another devastating hurricane strike the islands.
The bill notes that money would only be released upon completion of negotiations of parties necessary to restore instructional school days.