State-funded early education is one step closer to reality, but remains far from what the governor wants.
Legislators advanced a bill Friday that establishes a school readiness program. They are calling it a building block to creating a state-funded preschool program in Hawaii.
"Hawaii is one of 11 states in the country that does not publicly fund early learning and by having a school readiness program, we're really putting ourselves on the path towards being able to say that our youngest of keiki need to make sure that they have a good foundation to be ready for school," said state Sen. Jill Tokuda.
The measure would set aside more than $7 million to expand Preschool Open Doors, a state-run child care program managed by the Department of Human Services.
Tokuda said, "It's a strong investment. I think that's going to yield so much rewards."
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, "The state of Hawaii can now demonstrate its commitment to preparing our youth by ensuring that high quality child care and early education will be available, accessible and affordable."
But the bill is only a fraction of the $30 million Abercrombie's been rallying for to fund an early-education initiative for thousands of preschoolers.
Lawmakers say much of that money went to fund recently settled union contracts.
Still, those involved say they're excited.
"For us, this has really been about access and equity for all of our children, regardless of income that we know this is what will give our kids the best start," said Good Beginnings Alliance Executive Director Deborah Zysman.
Last week, lawmakers advanced a bill to fund a program for all preschoolers if voters support a constitutional amendment that allows public funds to be spent on private programs.
"We know that early education is key to so many different things," Zysman said. "To school test scores, to graduation rates to lowering even things like our future incarceration and other issues."
Both bills will go before the full House and Senate next week for a final vote.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association opposes the constitutional amendment, calling it a school voucher program.