Waianae resident Jordana Ferreira will have a hard time sending her nephew to preschool if the Preschool Open Doors Program is cut.

“We don’t understand how anyone can pay over a thousand dollars a month for preschool education,” Ferreira said in written testimony for a bill supporting the program. “The (financial) help provided from POD doesn’t alleviate all the issues… but it definitely helps.”

Funding for the program was inadvertently left out of the governor’s budget proposal for next year, which could leave 1,300 low-income children and their families without a way to pay for preschool.

Chair of the Ways and Means committee Jill Tokuda. REIT.  18 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civll Beat

Sen. Jill Tokuda, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, at a recent hearing.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Senate Bill 64 to allocate funding to continue POD passed through the Senate Committee on Ways and Means after a hearing Monday. It currently provides subsidies to approximately 1,300 low-income families to help send their children to preschool.

As originally written, SB 64 would have allocated $6 million to provide subsidies and another $440,000 for three positions and other services to run the program. However, it was amended to leave the funding amount blank so lawmakers could factor in the budget request later in the legislative session.

“We will keep this moving and see if the budget will be able to provide appropriations,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, the committee chair.

POD serves low-income or at-risk 4-year-olds who are too young to enter kindergarten. The subsidies are adjusted on a sliding scale based on financial need, but the average was $544 per month last year.

“Our current infrastructure with regards to early childhood … resources to lead and support early learning is limited and underdeveloped.” — Kathryn Matayoshi, state superintendent of education, in written testimony

According to a 2013 report by ChildCare Aware of America, preschool can cost a family up to $8,172 a year. The average income for Hawaii families who qualify for POD is $33,000 a year, according to the Good Beginnings Alliance, a nonprofit organization.

Meanwhile, another bill that would start a public prekindergarten program passed through the Senate Committee on Ways and Means last week. Senate Bill 844 would set up a program to establish pre-K offerings at public and charter schools that would be administered by the Executive Office on Early Learning.

SB 844 would give priority to low-income or at-risk children, and could be taught in either of the state’s official languages. Parents would be able to voluntarily enroll their children in a early education programs at public and charter schools across the state.

“Our current infrastructure with regards to early childhood … resources to lead and support early learning is limited and underdeveloped,” Kathryn Matayoshi, the state superintendent of education, said in written testimony.

Right now, there is $3 million in the budget for the statewide pre-K program, but lawmakers at an earlier hearing said that they plan to ask for another $30 million. The appropriations for the program were also left blank in the bill.

“We believe it is imperative to begin investing early in a child’s life, when the brain is in this state of tremendous growth potential,” the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii stated in written testimony.

And on Monday, two other bills that would help establish after-school programs passed the committee.

Senate Bill 980 would establish a R.E.A.C.H. (Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture, and Health) Hawaii program in the state Office of Youth Services to provide a standardized framework and funding for after-school programs in public middle schools. The R.E.A.C.H. program works with organizations in the community to give middle school students access to arts activities, athletics and academic programs that help improve attendance, behavior and course work.

More than 70,000 Hawaii children are left alone and unsupervised until their parents return home from work each day, according to R.E.A.C.H. Hawaii. Advocates hope that the programs will reduce the likelihood that children will engage in risky behavior. The program would be paid for with fees and legislative appropriations allocated to a special fund.

Another bill, Senate Bill 866, would provide more than $1 million to help maintain the after-school A+ program. The program’s operating costs will increase dramatically in 2015  because of Hawaii’s minimum wage hikes, according to Sen. Tokuda. The A+ program provides after-school care for children at Hawaii’s public elementary schools.

All of the early education and after-school program bills will move on to the full Senate.

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