By Diane Ako
Public school starts on July 30 this year, and as a mother of a soon-to-be-attending-public-school child, I followed the recent issue of school bus service with interest. Recently, the Hawaii State Department of Education recommended elimination of school bus routes in the face of a $17 million budget shortfall, which would have affected 20,000 students.
Despite the added $11.7 million, the Department is still $5.5 million short. We learned over the weekend that 2,380 students on 103 routes will still not have bus service.That's when State Representative K. Mark Takai (Aiea, Pearl City) stepped in and stood up for our children. Rep. Takai is credited with helping bring in more than $8 million that was recently deposited into the DOE checking account. The Board of Education used most of it to address cuts to student bus transportation, essentially restoring $11.7 million in bus cuts.
"Many parents and children across Hawaii depend on student bus service, and while there are significant issues surrounding the cost of this bus service, not having buses picking up students is a calamity. Our main priority is to improve student achievement," Rep. Takai told the Board of Education. "Children cannot learn without being in school, and many students will not go to school without bus service."
I agree with Rep. Takai. I can't imagine how anyone expects children -some as young as kindergarteners- to walk more than one mile to school. My five year old surely won't walk a mile, and I certainly wouldn't let her do it unattended for many years! I have a car and I can drive her to school. What do you do if you don't have that luxury? I guess you chance it.
I called Rep. Takai, who told me of the plight of a first-grader who lives at the top of Aiea Heights Drive. Her bus service wasn't restored and is part of the current $5.5 million shortfall. She now will need to travel three miles to Alvah Scott Elementary on Moanalua Road on streets without adequate sidewalks. It's a dangerous situation that still needs to be addressed.
Rep. Takai's efforts have, in total, netted more than $40 million in funds for the schools, from a federal program that provides funding to the state when military base housing is under renovation. Rep. Takai says, "Without the partnership of the military housing officials and the military school liaison officers, this funding would not have been possible."
Takai is a tireless advocate for our kids, putting their education first. Thanks, Representative Takai, for ensuring most of our students across the state get to school on July 30- and every day after that.