Hawaii parents object to statewide school closing

HONOLULU — Hundreds of angry parents protested Hawaii's statewide public school shutdown Friday, saying their children are losing out on education because of government budget cuts.

Hawaii closed 256 public schools Friday, the first of 17 teacher furlough days planned for this school year, giving the island state the shortest school year in the nation at 163 days. Most states have 180 school days.

While the parents waved signs and passed petitions at the state Capitol rally, their children wrote postcards to lawmakers and drew posters at arts and crafts tables.

The protesters, many of them bused in from schools across Oahu, formed a sea of yellow shirts with the message, "My Child Left Behind," a play on the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.

Hawaii musician Jack Johnson and entertainer Ben Vereen offered support with a few songs.

"There has to be a better solution than furloughing our kids," said Kathy Makuakane, who carried a sign saying: "You are furloughing our future."

Even her 8-year-old son, Jesse, agreed that he'd rather be in school at Kaelepulu Elementary.

"I don't really like it. I have a lot of fun in school most of the time," he said.

Organizers said the demonstration was meant to show elected leaders they shouldn't make children suffer for a lack of financial planning as the state faces a $1 billion projected shortfall over the next 20 months.

Many hope the state will make education a priority by raising taxes or dipping into emergency funds to restore Hawaii's school year. But those potential solutions, especially raising taxes, may prove unpopular among legislators looking to get re-elected.