The essence of the Constitutional Amendment Question No. 4 is to give a green light to use public funds for private preschools. This plan would take the money that once was available for junior kindergarten and transfer it from the public system into the private preschool system.  It does this by changing the state constitution to allow private schools to receive public money allocated for public education.

In the rush to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot and promote a public/private preschool plan, junior kindergarten was ended this school year, artificially creating a crisis for families with preschool age children.  With no alternatives in place, thousands of late born 4-year-olds were left out of preschool.  While this serves the interests behind Question 4 that is not what is best for our children, and the ripple effects on them and our schools will impact our public education system for years to come.

children playing at preschool / daycare

Children play at a preschool.

Flickr: Grant Barrett

The fundamental constitutional change also upsets one of the core values of our state constitution — equalization of funding for rural and poor public schools.

The reality is that private preschools are not evenly distributed across our islands.  Because private preschools are businesses, they tend to be located near the families who can afford to pay tuition.  In today’s Hawaii, when most working families hold down two jobs, this is unaffordable, and there is simply no time in the day for many parents to add a side trip to a different neighborhood in order to drop off and pick up their preschoolers.  Public elementary schools are in every neighborhood and many, if not most, are within walking distance of families’ homes.

No constitutional amendment is needed to expand quality preschools in public schools. So why isn’t a plan for expanding the number of public preschools even on the table? Public schools accept all children, they’re accessible to all children, they have licensed teachers, and they are required to make accommodations for children with disabilities while private schools do not.

When Hawaii’s constitution was written, people believed that education was of the utmost importance in creating opportunity for the children of the state’s working families.  This was in direct contrast to the exclusive private school system. For the people who can afford it, private school in Hawaii is still considered a part of an extended entry fee some families pay to ensure that their children stay in the upper middle class.  Like it or not, this is increasingly the system we live in, and it is this way because of the steady withdrawal of investment, energy and attention from our public schools.

I sat in at Governor Lingle’s office as a member of Save Our Schools Hawaii during the furloughs because I was worried about that disinvestment. I was a founding member of Parents for Public Schools Hawaii because I wanted a more equitable education system in our State. For the same reasons, as co-chair of Faith Action for Community Equity Oahu’s education team, I was active in the campaign to extend junior kindergarten for a year while the state worked to develop a plan for preschool.  I had high hopes for that plan because I truly believe that preschool is important for all children. But this public/private preschool plan is not what I had in mind.

The campaign to pass Question No. 4 has had tremendous support, smart staff, and a long time to put together the case for a constitutional change. But they haven’t convinced me. I don’t doubt their sincerity and genuine love for children, but I do doubt their willingness to include the well-being of blue collar and lower income families in their plan.

I would support the idea of universal pre-kindergarten for our state, but I cannot ignore the facts.  Question  No. 4 is so strongly focused on funding private preschools that it simply doesn’t serve enough of our people who rely on public education.  I urge you to vote No on Constitutional Amendment No. 4.

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About the Author

  • Mary Weir
    Mary Weir is co-chair of the Education Task Force for Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) and is on the Board of Parents for Public Schools Hawaii.  She has been an advocate for public schools for 30 years.  She and her husband, Rod, currently have a 3-year-old granddaughter in preschool.