Abercrombie Presses Need for Preschool
DePledge, Derrick, Honolulu Star - Advertiser
The video shows a ponytailed girl wearing an orange jail-like uniform, struggling to play hopscotch and climb a jungle gym because her hands and feet are shackled.
"Don't imprison our children's future," the video warns, part of an advertising campaign by Good Beginnings Alliance for universal preschool for Hawaii's 4-year-olds.
Hawaii is one of 11 states without a state-funded early learning program to help children prepare for kindergarten. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has made the creation of a school readiness program the top priority in his two-year budget draft, asking for $2.9 million for planning in fiscal year 2014 and $28.2 million to serve about 3,500 at-risk 4-year-olds in fiscal year 2015.
If the program were successful, it would be expanded over the next decade, eventually serving most of the state's 18,000 4-year-olds at a cost of more than $150 million a year.
But similar ideas over the past decade have failed to take shape because of questions about cost and whether the state can properly execute the program.
Research indicates that early childhood education can help children develop and reduce costs in education, social services and criminal justice over the long term, but only if children are exposed to high-quality preschool environments. Without consistent standards, talented teachers and involved parents, taxpayer money could be wasted on what amounts to glorified day care.
The Abercrombie administration wants state lawmakers to approve the initial money before knowing exactly what standards would guide the program, how the money would be split between public and private preschools, and how preschools would be held accountable for meeting the state's goals.
The administration also wants lawmakers to agree to a constitutional amendment so private preschools could receive state money. Article X of the Constitution prohibits the state from using public funds to support private education institutions.
"I think what's been hard is that we have not had that vision in the state to wait long-term, right?" said Terry Lock, the director of the governor's Executive Office on Early Learning. "And to take a risk and to start programs like this."
Lock said the state would use the year of planning to set standards, establish a data collection system for monitoring, and enter into contracts with preschools that agree to maintain high-quality programs.
The Executive Office on Early Learning has already released research-based standards that identify the knowledge and behavior expected of children from birth to kindergarten.
Forty-two percent of children in Hawaii enter kindergarten without preschool.
At the start, the school readiness program would serve 4-year-olds who will no longer have the option of junior kindergarten at public schools because the state is eliminating junior kindergarten after the 2013-2014 school year.
Lawmakers determined that junior kindergarten, which began in 2006, was never sufficiently funded, poorly implemented and largely ineffective, in part because younger students were often blended into kindergarten classes.
The state estimates that about 5,100 children will miss the cutoff for the 2014-15 school year, turning 5 after Aug. …