NOTE: The state legislature has gone on hiatus as of March 16, 2020 in response to COVID-19. The recess will go on indefinitely until the state House and Senate leaders decide when the session should reconvene. The content in this article reflects updates prior to the COVID-19 social distancing policy HIPHI implemented for itself and the State’s efforts to mitigate.
In this year’s race from January to May that is the Hawai‘i State legislative session, a bill to ensure that all students have access and exposure to agriculture and food systems education is still in the running. House Bill 2215 (HB2215) has passed three major hurdles, having been successfully heard by the House Committees on Lower and Higher Education (LHE) and Finance (FIN), and the Senate Committee on Education (EDU). Remaining tests of merit and endurance now come in the form of needing a hearing by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means (WAM), mutual agreement by House and Senate conferees, and then crossing the finish line if funded by the legislature and approved by the Governor.
This work in the form of “P-20 Agriculture Education” has been years in the making, driven by the pressing need to increase Hawaii’s food security and food self-sufficiency. In 2015, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 80 (SR80), an unfunded yet visionary request for the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) — Hawaii’s land-grant university — to convene a working group to create a coordinated framework of support for preschool through post-secondary (P-20) agriculture education in Hawai‘i. Three years of meetings co-convened by CTAHR and the Hawai‘i Farm to School Hui — with the involvement of over 40 governmental and non-governmental partners — resulted in a final report to the 2019 legislature (DC149) requesting that a coordinator position be established and funded to lead this work in three key areas: 1) teacher development (both pre-service and in-service), 2) core curricular integration, and 3) cultivation of agriculture educators at the state, community, and school levels.
During our last legislative session, Senate Bill 762 (SB762) would have done just that by placing a coordinator position within CTAHR. The bill was successfully heard by five committees in the Senate and House (once garnering over seventy pages of supportive testimony!), followed by several meetings in conference, but was ultimately not funded.
This year’s bill proposes that a workforce development coordinator be housed within the Hawai‘i Department of Education (HIDOE), where growing numbers of teachers, school administrators, and communities across the islands have embraced garden-based learning as a key instructional strategy and highly effective means for increasing student engagement, total well-being, and equity. Advocates agree that strong support for agriculture and food systems education within HIDOE and in collaboration with other state agency and community partners is an essential component in strengthening Hawaii’s food security and food self-sufficiency through the development of more local food producers and a society that understands and actively participates in regenerating Hawaii’s community food systems.