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Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Cato: Hawaii Scores F- Lacks Public School Spending Transparency
By Grassroot Institute @ 2:07 PM :: 5495 Views :: Education K-12

Grassroot Institute Says Taxpayers and Parents Deserve to Know More about School Spending

News Release from Grassroot Institute

HONOLULU, Hawaii -- August 28, 2013 -- A recent study from the Cato Foundation on how well state education departments report on public school spending finds the Hawaii Department of Education earning an "F-minus" for the overall lack of available data on departmental spending. The grade, which was second-worst of all 50 states, reflects asignificant lack of publicly-available information about the state's financial practices. The Cato study, entitled "Cracking the Books" calculated scores by looking at online data from the DoE's website.

States were judged for overall availability and ease of analysis of information related to per-pupil expenditures, total expenditure data (including capital expenditures), average salary data, and public accessibility. Hawaii's highest score came in public accessibility, as the information available was easily accessed on the department's website, though not in a format that allowed easy analysis. Hawaii scored a zero in information about average employee salaries, which was not available at all.

"Unfortunately, the lack of transparency in our state government spending is a long-standing concern of ours," stated Keli'i Akina, Ph.D., President of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. "Efforts to encourage or enforce better public access to information about how our tax dollars are spent often run into bureaucratic foot-dragging or political stalling tactics. The people of Hawaii deserve better than that."

"This is especially true when it comes to education," continued Dr. Akina. "As a state, we should be united in wanting the best for our children. But how can we effectively reform education if we lack the basic information we need about how education dollars are being spent? Governor Abercrombie and the legislature must demand greater accountability and transparency from the Department of Education. Only then will we know that they are truly serious about reforming our schools."

Both Grassroot Institute and the CATO Institute are affiliated with the State Policy Network's coalition of free market think tanks. The full Cato report can be found at:


About the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii:

Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, the free market, and limited, accountable government throughout Hawai`i and the Asia-Pacific region.  Read more about us at

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About Keli'i Akina:

Dr. Akina is a recognized scholar, educator, public policy spokesperson, and community leader. In 2012, he was a candidate for the non-partisan position of Trustee in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.  Akina has decades-long experience leading non-profit organizations including Youth for Christ Hawai`i and the Center for Tomorrow's Leaders. An expert in East-West Philosophy, he has taught at universities in China and the United States, and continues as an adjunct instructor at Hawai`i Pacific University and the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. Read more:  

Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending?

Summary of Findings

From CATO Institute, August 27, 2013

Public schools are usually the most costly item in state and local budgets. Yet despite tremendous and persistent spending growth in the last half-century, the public vastly underestimates the true cost of public education.

To better understand the source of this misperception, this report examines the spending data that all 50 state education departments make available to the public on their websites. It reveals that very few state education departments provide complete and timely financial data that is understandable to the general public.

Half of all states report a “per pupil expenditures” figure that leaves out major cost items such as capital expenditures, thereby significantly understating what is actually spent. Alaska does not even report per pupil expenditure figures at all.

Eight states fail to provide any data on capital expenditures on their education department websites. Ten states lack any data on average employee salaries and 41 states fail to provide any data on average employee benefits.

When the state education departments provide incomplete or misleading data, they deprive taxpayers of the ability to make informed decisions about public school funding. At a time when state and local budgets are severely strained, it is crucial that spending decisions reflect sound and informed judgment.

The table below provides summary grades on financial transparency for state department of education websites. A description of how these grades were derived is presented in the Grading Criteria section, and detailed ratings appear on the individual pages for each state.

LINK: Table with links to State Results

  *   *   *   *   *


Per Pupil Expenditures 6.50 / 45
Total Expenditure Data 9.25 / 30
Average Salary Data 0.00 / 10
Public Accessibility 12.50 / 15
Total Score 28.25 / 100

Note: Scores reflect the data provided on each state's education department website as of December 31, 2012. For more information, please see the Grading Criteria section.

Per Pupil Expenditures

Hawaii’s Department of Education provides seven years of Annual Financial Reports, which contain operating per pupil expenditure data at the state level only. Hawaii is missing the two most recent years of expenditures and fails to provide a table or graph that would allow citizens to easily compare changes in spending over time.

Per Pupil Expenditures
Category State District Score
Type of Per Pupil Expenditures Operating None  
  Half Credit n / a  
Years of Data 7 years n / a  
Score 3.5 / 10 0 / 10 3.5 / 20
Most Recent Year 2009-10 n / a  
Score 3 / 10 0 / 10 3 / 20
Historical Comparison None n / a  
Score 0 / 2.5 0 / 2.5 0/ 5
Total     6.5 / 45

Total Expenditure Data

Hawaii provides seven years total expenditure data, including capital expenditures, at the state level only. Hawaii is missing the two most recent years of expenditures and fails to provide any data on total salary expenditures or pensions.

Total Expenditure Data
Category State District Score
Total Expenditures Object / Summary None  
Score 4 / 4 0 / 4 4 / 8
Capital Expenditures Included n / a  
Score 0 / 2 0 / 2 2 / 4
Total Salary Data None n / a  
Score 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 4
Pension Data None n / a  
Score 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 4
Years of Data 7 years None  
Score 1.75 / 2.5 0 / 2.5 1.75 / 5
Most Recent Year 2009–10 n / a  
Score 1.5 / 2.5 0 / 2.5 1.5 / 5
Total     9.25 / 30

Average Salary Data

Hawaii fails to provide any data regarding average employee salaries.

Average Salary Data
Category State District Score
Categories Covered None None  
Score 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 3
Employee Benefits n / a n / a  
Score 0 / 1.25 0 / 1.25 0 / 2.5
Years of Data n / a n / a  
Score 0 / 1.25 0 / 1.25 0 / 2.5
Most Recent Year n / a n / a  
Score 0 / 1.25 0 / 1.25 0 / 2.5
Total     0 / 10

Public Accessibility

Navigation: Hawaii’s Department of Education website is easy to navigate. The homepage contains a link to “Reports” which includes a link to the “Financial” page, which leads to the Annual Financial Reports.

Ease of Public Analysis: Hawaii’s financial data are provided in PDF format only, which limits the ability of users to analyze the data.

Public Accessibility
Category Metric Score
Navigation Full Credit: Very easy for a layperson to locate the desired data. All relevant data are in close proximity with a main menu that is clear and commonsensical. 5 / 5
Ease of Public Analysis Format: PDF only (minus 2.5 points) 7.5 / 10
Total   12.5 /15




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