Monday, October 20, 2008

Pre[k]now - Emerging from the Wilderness

House Education Chair, Rep. Roy Takumi, is recognized nationally as a leader in the field of education. He recently agreed to review Pre-K Now's report entitled, "Votes Count FY09", which assesses and analyzes legislative action and investment in pre-K programs around the country in this fiscal year.

Where does Hawaii stand? We are one of 12 states that have no state-funded pre-K program. However, Hawaii and Rhode Island are two states which have passed legislation this year to begin the process, earning them a place in the "emerging from the wilderness" category. Here's what the report says:

In May 2008, the Hawaii legislature passed the Keiki First Steps bill, which establishes an early learning council, charged with creating a long-term plan to provide high-quality, pre-k for three and four year olds. Despite the promising nature of the bill, the governor, who once described pre-k as "a good investment" that "everyone important," chose to veto the measure. In her veto statement, the governor cited vague concerns regarding conflicts with other early childhood programs, impacts on other government agencies, the costs of the council, and the extent of the council's authority.

In encouraging his fellow lawmakers to override the veto, Rep. Roy Takumi, who sponsored the House bill, systematically dispatched each of the governor's flimsy objections, pointing out that lawmakers had "worked closely with the governor's policy office" on details of the bill and adding that he was "baffled and puzzled" by the veto. He also noted that, "Over four years ago, a well-known political leader when asked about the high cost of pre-school said, 'That's just not fair. It's not fair to the children or the parents.' I agree with [the governor] ... Let's do what's fair. Let's do what right. Let's start Keiki First Steps." Though the legislation included no appropriation, several private foundations, representing the Keiki Funders Network, offered to provide financial support for the council's first three years, filling the bill's most signficant void and essentially nullifying the governor's budgetary concerns. Ultimately, in a special session, legislators overrode the governor's veto, enacting the legislation.

The passage of the Keiki First Steps legislation establishes a crucial foundation for providing pre-k to three and four year olds in Hawaii. Importantly, it requires that the new council feature an inclusive group of key stakeholders in the development process and that the plan prioritize access for at-risk children. It also grants the council administrative authority over the program, including hiring, developing policy, and establishing standards. The authority to appoint members to the council lies with the governor, giving her significant power to make or break this crucial initiative and an important opportunity to champion Hawaii pre-k. State lawmakers also will need to do more. They must follow this important achievement with further leislation based upon the council's recommendations and with substantial and continuing appropriations if this single step is to become a route out of the wilderness.

Pre-K Now is a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and other funders to advance high quality pre-k for all children.

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