Ige takes stand against amendment on funding option for preschools

HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

Ige takes stand against amendment on funding option for preschools

The gubernatorial candidate raises concerns about fair play by private institutions


By Derrick DePledge

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 28, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 02:39 a.m. HST, May 28, 2014



STAR-ADVERTISER
Sen. David Ige said Tuesday he opposes a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be spent on private preschool.


In a stark policy difference with Gov. Neil Abercrombie, state Sen. David Ige said Tuesday he opposes a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be spent on private preschool.

The constitutional amendment, which goes before voters in November, is a critical element in Abercrombie’s plan to eventually offer preschool to all of the state’s 17,200 4-year-olds at a cost of more than $125 million a year. The state would use a combination of public and private preschool options so parents would have choices.

“I understand and support the importance of early education,” said Ige, who is challenging Abercrombie in the Democratic primary. “In this case I just think that the plan is not well conceived. There are insufficient private providers. They’re not in the communities that they’re most needed. And the cost is overwhelming.”

Ige, who had been undecided on the issue, said he also has philosophical concerns about taxpayer money going to private preschools. He said he would instead restart a junior kindergarten program at public schools that is being eliminated this year.

“We would be assured that all children would be treated fairly,” he said. “Private schools don’t play by public school rules.”

State-funded preschool is a dominant theme in Abercrombie’s re-election campaign. The governor told delegates at the Democratic Party’s state convention last weekend that early childhood education would be his top priority if he wins a second four-year term.

Abercrombie has chided Ige and others for not fully embracing his initiative. “If preschool can make the difference between good and great for all our children, how can we say ‘no’?” the governor asked in a campaign advertisement.

Sixty-two percent of voters interviewed for a Hawaii Poll in February said they favored the constitutional amendment.

Many at the state Legislature, however, have been lukewarm. Research has shown that children can benefit from high-quality early education programs, but many lawmakers want to see more details from the state before they commit. Other studies have indicated that some programs, such as the federal Head Start program for children from low-income families, have short-term results that diminish over time.

While Ige and other lawmakers have not been willing to advance Abercrombie’s preschool initiative until the constitutional amendment is settled, they did agree to an extra $6 million last year to expand Preschool Open Doors, a child care program, and $3 million this year for preschool for about 420 low-income children at 18 public schools.

The state Constitution now prohibits public money from being used for private eduction, since private schools do not have to provide equal access for all children.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which has endorsed Ige, is driving the opposition to the constitutional amendment. The teachers union warns that it could lead to a private voucher program and has urged lawmakers to expand preschool only at public schools with public school teachers.

“I do support early education, but I’ve decided that I’ll be voting ‘no’ on the constitutional amendment,” Ige said.