State funding to help low-income families pay for preschool is a step closer to being restored under a measure passed Wednesday by the House Education Committee.

About 1,300 families rely on the Preschool Open Doors program to cover preschool costs, but money for the program was inadvertently left out of the governor’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

Senate Bill 64 was introduced by Sen. Kalani English to restore funding to the Preschool Open Doors program and had already passed the Senate.

Preschoolers at Seagull Schools.

Preschoolers at Seagull Schools

Alia Wong/Civil Beat

The program serves low-income families, about half of which are single-parent households. Parents received an average of $544 per month in 2014.

“Preschool Open Doors … is a lifeline for many low and moderate income parents,” said Christina Cox, who is the president KCAA Preschools of Hawaii.

A 2013 report by ChildCare Aware of America estimates that parents in Hawaii spend about $8,000 a year on preschool per child. Meanwhile, most of the families who received POD subsidies make about $33,000 a year, according the Good Beginnings Alliance, a nonprofit organization.

Melanie Padgett, of the Maui County Early Childhood Resource Center, said that many parents would be forced to quit their jobs to watch their children if funding for the POD program isn’t restored this legislative session.

“To take this funding away would be wrong … it would be devastating,” said Diana Pereira, who testified in support of SB 64.

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.

Another bill, Senate Bill 844, would set up a program to establish universal pre-K at public and charter schools that would be administered by the Executive Office on Early Learning. The bill would allow parents to enroll their children in pre-K programs at public and charter schools across the state.

The House Education Committee hasn’t scheduled SB 844 for a hearing yet. In order to move through the rest of the legislative process, the bill must be passed by the House Education and Finance Committees.

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