Your recent article, “The Battle Over Preschool Puts Hawaii Governor On The Hot Seat,” dated March 19, mischaracterized the issue.

NOTE: pick the correct link

It is not a “battle,” which implies that there is a conflict over which state entity should have oversight of the state’s early learning program. It is more like an invasion by the Department of Education to take over the existing statutory authority of the Executive Office on Early Learning.

A bit of history is in order.

In 2012, Act 178 was signed into law by then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie. The law established EOEL and mandated it to create a comprehensive early childhood development and learning system for Hawaii’s keiki, prenatal to age 5.

In other words, the Legislature’s intent was for a separate, independent entity to oversee early learning in Hawaii. DOE submitted testimony in support of this approach.

In 2017, Act 202 was signed into law by Gov. David Ige, and this law continues to provide direction for the state’s early learning program. There are several key provisions worth mentioning.

Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto speaks at DOE board meeting.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto at a recent DOE board meeting. The author says early education is the responsibility of the Executive Office on Early Learning, not the DOE. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Act 202 states that the EOEL director is the principal officer (not the superintendent) responsible for “the performance, development, and control of programs, policies, and activities under the jurisdiction of the office from prenatal care to entrance into kindergarten.”

Furthermore, Act 202 goes on to state that, “There is established within the department of education for administrative purposes only an early learning board (which) shall have power, in accordance with law, to formulate statewide policy relating to early learning.”

Administrative purposes means just that, and this is no different from other entities like the libraries, charter schools and the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board, which are also administratively placed within DOE. The superintendent has little, if anything, to do with these administratively attached entities.

A New Superintendent

In 2017, neither the DOE nor the Board of Education raised any concerns as the legislation moved through the process. Indeed, previous superintendents were fine with this arrangement and never had a problem with EOEL’s administrative authority.

Of course, this all happened prior to the current superintendent coming on board. And this is when the “battle” ensued.

Interestingly, Kamehameha Schools testified in support of Act 202 in 2017 which established the administrative authority of EOEL but now “strongly opposes” it, stating in testimony, “We do not agree that this is the right long-term direction for Early Learning in Hawaii… ”

House Bill 921, which is before the Legislature now, further clarifies the independent administrative authority of EOEL.

If DOE and/or the BOE believes that the state’s public early learning program should be under its authority, the solution is a simple one. Have a bill introduced that repeals the EOEL law and proposes how the DOE plans on overseeing and implementing the public preschool program.

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