Hawaii Teachers Will Get Bonuses Not To Quit, But Will It Work?

Hawaii can’t keep teachers. That’s why the only US school district that covers an entire state wants to emphasize a new $75 million federal program to pay bonuses to teachers in Hawaii’s toughest schools.

The Maui News said Saturday that the $1,500 bonuses are already in place. The amount will rise to $3,000 for the 2015-16 school year. There are also relocation bonuses of as much as $6,000 to relocate to schools in areas that include the poorest, worst-performing students.

Will it work? The Maiu News report focused on a high-performing teacher who came to Hawaii at age 22 and is now quitting seven years later to work in Texas because he’s sick of constant tinkering with the system.

“We start and it’s not perfect, so we scrap it and start over,” said now 29-year-old Jonathan Sager.

OK, that’s interesting. If somebody is just tired of dealing with random bureaucratic hassles, you can usually calm them down by throwing money at them.

However, the real cause of many teachers quitting their Hawaii jobs actually appears to be the high cost of living there. Food, housing, and other basic needs can be far more expensive in the islands, since so many supplies have to be flown in.

Even Sager appears to be moving from expensive Hawaii to cheap Texas. His discretionary income is likely to explode upward.

Most teachers I know are expected to either have a master’s degree or to be working toward one. After that investment of time and money in their own education, they’re not too interested in eating ramen and sleeping on the beach. And most of them would like a real house, not just a condo.

Is a $1,500 bonus going to make much of a difference?

Another issue is that Hawaii doesn’t train enough teachers to supply its schools. Therefore it recruits from the mainland.

But those teachers frequently leave after a few years because of the isolation from their families. $1,500 or even $3,000 a year might be a drop in the bucket if you have to fly back home over the Pacific Ocean just to see your folks.

If someone is leaning toward working in Hawaii anyway, the bonuses may be persuasive. But are they really enough to keep many teachers in Hawaii? I’d love to hear your comments.

[Honolulu from Diamondhead photo by photo credit: JoePhilipson via photopin cc]