On April 3o, 2013, Senator Jill Tokuda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, offered the following remarks in support of Senate Bill (SB) 1084, proposing a constitutional amendment to permit the appropriation of public funds for private early childhood education programs, subject to non-discrimination provisions, as provided by law:
I rise to speak in strong support of this measure.
Colleagues, much of what we do here is maintaining, changing, adding to, or repealing what policymakers of the past did before us. This is not a bad thing, merely an observation of how government functions and works to keep society moving. But I raise this point to illustrate how unique an opportunity we have in SB1084 to be a part of the beginning, the very start, of something that I believe is a real game changer for our people and our state.
I could cite you the statistics and studies again, from Heckman to Perry, about why access to high quality early learning opportunities are the greatest equalizer a child can have. I could remind you about the research done on Hawaii, concluding that the social benefit from early learning, from a lower crime rate to a more productive economy, is 4.2 times the cost of the investment.
I could verbally refute the arguments that have come in against this bill asking you to vote no: this is not a voucher system-it lacks the fundamental characteristics of a voucher system, like absolute parental choice, and will not open the door to vouchers or privatization into the K-12 public education system.
Or the fact that our state is amongst the strongest Blaine Amendment states in the country. This bill does not water down our constitution’s protection of the separation of church and state, and this voluntary program would allow faith-based preschool providers to either continue operating separate and apart from the program, or participate utilizing models of best practice taken from other states and the federal government that safeguard against entanglement issues.
For those calling for mandatory kindergarten first, we’ve essentially achieved that, with 97-98% of children who would attend kindergarten if it were mandatory already attending on a voluntary basis.
And then there is the K-12 argument. Fund the system and focus on our K-12 pipeline first. On such a fundamental level, we are. By making sure our children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and have access to high quality early learning opportunity regardless of their socio-economic status, regardless of where they live, we are enhancing the efforts already underway to improve and strengthen Hawaii’s P-20 system of public education.
In finally seeking to step out and create a publically funded early learning system, we are the witnesses to a beginning, and it all started last year when we created the Executive Office on Early Learning, has foundationally moved into our School Readiness Program which will be discussed later today, and has the potential to really take shape through this constitutional amendment.
Because here’s the thing. While we in government are new to the early learning game, our partners in the private sector are leaders in the field.
As I said before, if you need a reason to support our early learning bills, you need look no further than our own communities, our own families, our own lives. If you or a loved one have had the benefit of a preschool education, it was because a private provider gave it to you.
For decades, they have shouldered the burden and responsibility of educating our youngest children alone. This constitutional amendment would allow government to step up to the plate and partner with the private sector as we seek to prepare our children to be ready to succeed in both school and in life.
A survey done last year for the People’s Pulse showed a broad consensus in favor of funding early learning, with 77% indicating that it was important to fund a preschool program.
People want Hawaii to come out from the small minority of states that does not put public funds towards early learning, and this bill will allow people to affirmatively cast their vote in the direction they want to see our state go in.
Even if you still disagree with me despite the arguments and points made, I’ll understand and respect your right to vote NO…on the general election ballot in 2014.
But let us first give every voter in Hawaii that opportunity they deserve to make an educated and informed decision about how we should educate our youngest of keiki and it starts with a yes vote today.