In schools across Maui County, I’ve seen lives turned around, cycles of poverty broken and new, incredible opportunities created.
As the Maui County program manager for Paxen Huli Ke Alo About Face! Family of Programs, I’ve served with a team of approximately 10 instructors and support staff to provide work-readiness, academic and life-skills training and education to more than 250 Maui and Moloka‘i students each year.
We are part of larger programming that spans from Kaua‘i to Hawai‘i Island and instructs nearly 2,000 at-risk youth in key academic and career skills.
Since its inception in 2003, the program has educated more than 11,000 students across Hawai‘i. Of those, more than 94 percent have achaieved at least a single-grade gain in reading and math. In 2010, we placed more than 3,500 Hawaiian teens in high-interest jobs through the Summer Youth Employment Program.
But all this soon may come to an abrupt end.
After March 31, our programs—and others like them—could simply disappear. Proposed budget cuts by Gov. Neil Abercrombie will eliminate these critical services to students who need them the most.
It is necessary for the governor to focus efforts to reduce the deficit and ultimately balance Hawai‘i’s budget, but not at the expense of our youth. Our students are Hawai‘i’s future, one that we risk mortgaging, if more than $80 million are cut from critical human services over the next two years.
These programs are essential to Hawai‘i’s future. Our educational services provide confidence, knowledge and skills to pursue—and realize—meaningful futures. In many cases, we intervene to detour students from less desirable life paths onto those that will benefit their families, communities, and ultimately, all of Hawai‘i.
Our annual per-pupil costs are a fraction of another potential outcome—juvenile or adult incarceration—that could emerge as an undesirable alternative to our programming. Indeed, our programs provide Hawai‘i with a precious resource: academically and socially responsible students who exhibit strong work skills and ethics and who lovingly give back to their communities.
The daily per-student cost of these opportunities? About the price of lunch. The return on investment? Priceless.
We understand the current fiscal challenges and we agree with Gov. Abercrombie that we must explore federal funding options, engage in public-private partnerships and invest in new economies involving clean energy and green jobs. But we shouldn’t do so at the expense of our children.
We implore the governor to consider a more measured plan that involves the continued funding of human services programs beyond March of this year and through at least the first half of 2012. Such an approach would provide the current administration with the necessary time to critically and fully explore a variety of options to increase the state’s revenue without rushing to eliminate these highly essential services.
It is clear that Hawai‘i faces many significant challenges. The key is that we must work together to overcome them. Only then can we truly shape Hawai‘i’s future.