A new poll shows that the majority of the Hawaii public supports a state-funded preschool program — and lawmakers are hoping to make it happen as soon as 2014.

Education advocates released the poll results on Thursday showing that 74 percent of registered voters support state-funded preschool for Hawaii’s keiki.

Hawaii is one of 11 states that does not offer free pre-kindergarten education. Studies have shown that attending preschool has lifelong impacts. Kids who attend preschool are less likely to face incarceration and are more likely to graduate from high school and find jobs.

The poll, conducted in June by Hawaii-based market research firm Ward Research, surveyed 418 registered voters.

The results were announced at a press conference held Thursday at Mother Rice Preschool by members of Good Beginnings Alliance and Be My Voice! Hawai’i, organizations that advocate for early childhood education in Hawaii. Both groups are working with legislators and the governor to develop a pilot program that will be introduced in the next legislative session.

“The business and the philanthropic and the education communities are really on board about doing something aggressive for education,” said Jacce Mikulanec, policy and community partnerships director for Good Beginnings Alliance.

The poll results come on the heels of a new law establishing the Executive Office of Early Learning.

The law also repeals a junior kindergarten program that wasn’t meeting its goals, according to Rep. Roy Takumi, chair of the House education committee.

“Why not put [these kids] in a much more appropriate setting: preschool?” Takumi said.

According to Terry Lock, the office’s newly appointed director, the pilot program hopes to help the more than 5,000 students who will be affected by the closure of the junior kindergarten program in 2014.

Willingness to Invest in Hawaii’s Keiki

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is thinking about requesting between $12 million and $20 million from the Legislature to fund the new preschool program, according to Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor’s spokesperson.

Both Takumi and Sen. Jill Tokuda, chair of the Senate committee on education, strongly support the initiative.

But Tokuda would not venture a guess as to how much the program might cost.

“Clearly when we’re talking about a publicly funded early learning system we’re talking about a phased in approach that will take in a significant investment of resources,” Tokuda said. “I think what’s really great about the 74 percent figure of support that we saw in this survey is that clearly you’ve got public will and public support.”

Takumi said the program may end up costing $90 million once it’s fully implemented. But he emphasized that the program will be phased in over time and that a number of variables — such as the type of program offered and eligibility requirements — will impact the final price tag.

According to the poll, some of those surveyed are open to creating new government revenue streams to help fund the program.

The Ward Research poll found that 21 percent of respondents supported paying for the new preschool program through a state lottery program. Another 18 percent were in favor of funding the program through higher income taxes for high earning households.

But considering the government’s current fiscal situation, securing funding may not be easy.

“I think it’s still going to be a real upward battle to get [$12 million],” Lock said. “The more support we get from the public, the better.”

Preschool Matters

Hawaii is among the minority of states that does not offer free preschool education, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“Only half of students in Hawaii go to preschool,” said Christina Cox, president of KCAA Preschools of Hawaii, at the press conference.

The positive impacts of preschool on children’s future prospects are well documented.

One of the most well-known studies on the topic, the HighScope Perry Preschool Study published in 2005, showed that preschool attendance is tied to a decreased risk of incarceration, an increased chance of employment and higher graduation rates.

Dee Jay Mailer, CEO of Kamehameha Schools, is the chair of Be My Voice! Hawai’i‘s leadership council. She said the state has the capacity to provide preschool to Hawaii’s students, but it will come down to political will.

“We as adults, we need to step up,” she said.

See below for detailed results of the poll:

About the Author