With less than three weeks to go before the general election, the campaign in support of a ballot initiative to allow the use of public money for private preschools is picking up steam — and doling out the big bucks.

Question No. 4 on the ballot asks voters whether the state can amend the constitution to allow the allocation of taxpayer dollars to private preschool programs as part of an initiative to expand early education in Hawaii. Four out of every 10 children miss out on preschool in Hawaii, in large part because tuition is too expensive for most families to afford it.

The amendment, its supporters say, would enable a system in which the state could contract with private preschools, bringing down their tuition and making them more accessible to children of all means.

But opponents say it will only exacerbate the current two-tiered system, benefitting families with money and leaving limited opportunities for the low- and middle-income children.

Keiki Child Center of Hawaii in Pearl City. 4.30.14

Keiki Child Center of Hawaii in Pearl City is one of many private preschools that have endorsed the constitutional amendment.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The “Yes on 4” campaign is being spearheaded by Good Beginnings Alliance, a children’s advocacy group whose political committee has been collecting and spending lots of cash to ramp up support for the ballot question. The group sent out a press release today touting support for Question No. 4 from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Bank of Hawaii, First Insurance Company of Hawaii and Hawaii Electric — not exactly the names that first come to mind when thinking about early childhood education.

A recent Civil Beat poll revealed that Hawaii voters are largely divided on the issue, with 45 percent of respondents saying they oppose the amendment and 40 percent of them saying they support it.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is one of the most vocal groups to oppose the initiative, but the union recently terminated its political campaign — despite already spending at least $142,000 — because of a funding mechanism that put it at risk of violating campaign spending law.

Unlike Good Beginnings Alliance, which has already been airing two ads, HSTA has had to yank all its advertising off the airwaves. Civil Beat reported on that snafu last week.

Meanwhile, Good Beginnings Alliance’s campaign is alive and well. It’s already spent at least $234,000 airing TV ads, according to recently filed Federal Communications reports, and secured public endorsements from a range of well-known community organizations.

One of them, of course, is Kamehameha Schools — the largest preschool operator in the state. According to the most recent campaign finance filings, which reflect data through the primary election, the schools had contributed $500,000 to the “Yes on 4” campaign. The next filings are expected to reveal another slew of contributions.

Other supporters of the campaign aren’t too surprising. They include a hodgepodge of business groups and private preschool providers, among other stakeholders:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Hawaii Business Roundtable
  • Early Care and Education Consortium
  • Hawaii Association for the Education of Young Children
  • People Attentive to Children (PATCH)
  • Aha Punana Leo
  • Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA)
  • Na Leo Naauao – Native Hawaiian Charter School Alliance
  • KCAA Preschools of Hawaii
  • Seagull Schools
  • Kamaaina Kids
  • Keiki Care Center of Hawaii
  • Ka Huli Mua, LLC
  • JumpStart Preschool
  • Aloha School Early Learning Center
  • Ke Kula O Nawahiokalaniopuu
  • Waikeola Congregational Church Preschool
  • Kailua Methodist Preschool

 

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