OPINION: Education and Taxes

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(HONOLULU--JANUARY 31, 2016)--Talofa lava my Samoa. Saturday, Jan. 30, US President Barack Obama said he'd be requesting $4 billion for education so there's no better time than now to offer an opinion on education and taxes. In an Observer Letter to the Editor signed by Wendy Wonder, it's suggested that parents facing economic challenges in sovereign Samoa enroll their children in schools in American Samoa for the freebies. Schooling and lunches are free in the unorganized, unincorporated U.S. territory of American Samoa.

I'm a former teacher and librarian with American Samoa Department of Education.

I taught kindergarten at Manulele Tausala, first grade at Matafao, sophomores and freshman at Tafuna High School. I was also an assistant librarian for Feleti Barstow Public Library which is part of ASDOE.When I became a reporter for Samoa News in 2005, I found that the news job was a good catalyst for effecting positive change across the department. ASDOE was featured often in the Samoa News, lots of good stories and bad stories too. Because I have a keen interest in education, covering the ASDOE was one of my favorite things to do. I liked reporting on elementary and high school sports, graduations, the Speech Festival, National History Day, the Science Fair, the Math Competition and the Territorial Teacher of the Year. Any story that shared advances in education were highly enjoyable, even the arrival of new school buses. Due to its size, the department was also rife with corruption. These keywords should ring a bell: School Lunch Program, late paychecks, computers and mismanaged funds.

From the outset, free schools in American Samoa are a sweet deal for any parent who wants their child to go to school. While it is, we should remind our people and leaders in Washington D.C., Samoa and American Samoa that nothing in life is free.

American Samoa's education system is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The USDOE is funded by the federal government, the dollars of American taxpayers.

ASDOE is currently involved in projects with two schools in the State of Hawai'i. One is the USDOE-funded Kapolei High School and the other is the non-profit Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center which is funded by a three-year grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA). USDOE and ANA are federal agencies.

Both entities are required to follow strict federal policies. Ultimately they must answer to the people who fund their paychecks -- the taxpayers.

There are several things that trouble me about these Hawai'i-based projects involving our Samoan children.

In April 2015, Kapolei High School's Polynesian Club took a group of students to American Samoa for the Flag Day festivities. I supported one of the siva fundraisers held to raise proceeds for this trip. Some things went awry on this trip, there were questions about money and late last year several Kapolei parents voiced their concerns with me, saying the students were advised not to say anything about what happened during the trip. According to one parent, students were advised: "What happened in American Samoa, stays there." Who advised them so remains a mystery.