FamilyInteractionHawaii lawmakers on the money committees ponied up $3 million this session to create a public preschool program next school year for a few hundred 4-year-olds.

The funding, say early-learning advocates, was intended for a variety of preschool options, including pre-kindergarten classrooms on Hawaii Department of Education campuses, subsidies earmarked for low-income children and centers where family members attend classes alongside their youngsters.

But the money committee chairs decided last-minute to prohibit the state from using any of the $3 million allocation for that final option, an increasingly popular preschool alternative known in education circles as family-child interaction learning.

The proviso, which didn’t appear until the final version of the supplemental budget bill, is causing consternation among members of the early-education community, who say they’re surprised and disappointed.

“It’s one thing not to include funding,” said Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Jill Tokuda, who helped shepherd legislation for Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s early learning initiative and sits on the Ways and Means Committee but says she was given little input on the last-minute stipulations attached to the budget. “It’s another to prohibit funding.”

Tokuda said she doesn’t know why the money committee chairs, Sen. David Ige and Rep. Sylvia Luke, decided to block funding for the interaction preschools and that she had no say in the proviso. In fact, she said she had no idea that the rule had been included in the budget legislation until after it was too late to do any jockeying.

“Our understanding, the way the hearings had come across, is that there would’ve been some flexibility (for parent-participation programs), but apparently not,” she said.

GG Weisenfeld, who directs the governor’s Executive Office on Early Learning, said she, too, was surprised: “We didn’t have any notion that it would happen,” she said.

Neither Ige nor Luke responded to multiple requests for comment.

But a member of House Speaker Joe Souki‘s office suggested that the lawmakers included the proviso because Hawaii voters haven’t yet approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to allocate public money to private preschool providers, which includes family participation programs. The question is being placed on the ballot this November thanks to legislation that was passed last year.


Photo Credit: PF Bentley of Civil Beat