Education vs. the HSTA

Girl drawing back to schoolBy Michael Richey

The issue of publically funded preschool has dogged educators, lawmakers and citizens of this state for some time. It can be examined and argued about through a variety of lenses, but ultimately it pertains to the moral standards of our society. A number of studies have shown that children who participate in pre-k programs are attuned to the social aspects of school, have stronger literacy skills, and ultimately graduate high school on-time and are more likely to pursue higher education. Hawaii is currently a minority, one of eleven states that do not have a publically funded preschool program. Through State Bill 1084, Hawaii lawmakers want to change this fact. The question on the November 2014 ballot which voters will decide is this: should lawmakers amend Hawaii’s constitution to allow public monies to be used to create pre-k programs to serve economically disadvantaged children? There are organizations and legislators who object to the plan laid out in S.B 1084 for various reasons, but I believe their concerns to be unproductive.

Hawaii legislators and educators have come to realize that the lack of any state funded pre-k programs has become a major hindrance to the success of thousands of students. Lawmakers want to change this not only through amending our state constitution, but also by creating partnerships between private and public educators, and involving parents directly with their children’s education. According to the Hawaii State School Readiness Assessment, only 57% of kindergartners entered the classroom with pre-k experience in 2013. While the survey concludes that this figure is up from past years, it still means thousands of kindergarten students are entering classrooms cognitively and socially disadvantaged. A metaphor is easy to string together: think of it as someone who is training for a marathon. You wouldn’t enter the race without having trained for months beforehand, slowly building your endurance and strength. Landmark studies like the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project which observed the long-term effects of attending a pre-k program found that students benefited through consistent academic progress, less delinquency, and higher wages earned in their later lives.

A critical 2008 economic analysis done in Hawaii by Good Beginnings Alliance concluded that for every one dollar invested in early childhood education programs, the state will receive a return of 4.2%. The math is simple and supported on both ends: a healthy return for every dollar invested combined with the fact that preschool enables students to succeed both in their academic and later-life careers. It might be a hard sell to taxpayers who view preschool as ‘glorified daycare’ but through the research available now citizens can see for themselves that using state funds in preschool isn’t consuming, but investing. It’s something any fiscally responsible individual does (or is advised to do): invest in their future, so why should we neglect to act responsibly for our keiki? By investing now we stand to benefit down the road in so many ways. National improvements to early childhood education also remains a top priority for the Obama administration, evident in his Preschool For All program aimed at providing pre-k programs for every child in the nation. The alignment between national and state-level legislators is easy to see, further incentive for making changes now. Taken together, it’s a win-win situation. By allowing tax payer dollars to be invested in pre-k programs, we cultivate future generations by enabling them with the skills to succeed in school and ultimately live fruitful, productive lives.

With such noble intent and an aim at giving every student the opportunity for academic success it would seem preposterous to oppose S.B 1084, but the HSTA does have its concerns. Amending the state constitution to create partnerships between government and existing private educators is a pill that the HSTA cannot naturally swallow. In an editorial piece published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Alan Isbell, a fourth grade teacher and HSTA spokesman states that “The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) and the National Education Association (NEA) are unequivocally opposed to any privatization or subcontracting that has the potential to reduce the resources that otherwise would be available to achieve and/or maintain quality public education” (Isbell). Further on, Isbell relates the aims of Hawaii lawmakers to that of President Bush’s provisions to the No Child Left Behind act, attempting to link two very distinct issues through the dark moniker of public school privatization. But upon closer examination, we see very little similarities between the two. The HSTA’s concern that this bill would create “voucher systems” for private schools isn’t correct. Using a sliding-fee scale, the State will share the costs of pre-k tuition with that of families who need help; a method similar to that used for students receiving financial aid in college.

Weighing the arguments and concerns of not only HSTA but the tax-paying citizens wary of funneling public money into the private sector, Gov. Abercrombie and his administration overhauled their original plan. As Christine Donnelly wrote in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article this past January, “the governor is pushing ahead this legislative session with a hybrid plan that seeks a total of about $8 million to subsidize enrollment in private early-learning centers, establish a total of 32 preschool classes at 30 public schools statewide and fund programs designed to improve low-income parents’ interactions with their children” (Donnelly). This hybrid will incorporate the best of both worlds: partnerships with excellent, existing private educators, pre-k classrooms being created on public school campuses and the crucial education of parents with preschool-age children. Our lawmakers are aiming at eliminating the obstacles so many socio-economically disadvantaged families face in overcoming their poverty. The vicious circle trapping poor students needs to be eradicated, and this plan set forth by lawmakers is a good start.

The wealth of studies conducted focusing on the effects of early learning on a child’s overall academic career overwhelmingly supports such programs. As mentioned, the short and long-term effects of participating in pre-k programs become evident in multiple aspects of a student’s life. The Head Start program, started in 1965, is a national program aiming to provide early childhood education to at-risk and socio-economically disadvantaged children. The findings of a longitudinal study done in 2006 on 600 Head Start pre-k students “showed that final kindergarten report card grades/ratings of Head Start graduates were higher in numeracy, language, literacy, social conduct, and physical development as compared to their non-Head Start peers” (Head Start Impact Study). If the benefits are so obvious, why then have only 43% of our kindergartners attended preschool? Affordability is one main cause, a factor legislators hope to eliminate with the passing of S.B 1084. Pre-k tuition in Hawaii averages around $700 a month, a cost most families aren’t equipped to handle (Good Beginnings Alliance); a state-wide, publically funded system will enable students from poor families who face the biggest hurdles an opportunity to succeed. It will act as an equalizer, just as our public schools were created to afford any American an equal opportunity at success.

It’s important to keep in mind that there is no panacea to the myriad problems that face educators, parents, and ultimately, the students of our state. The determined effort by our lawmakers to implement pre-k educational partnerships with the private sector is, I believe, a fruitful start. The arguments opponents make against these bills are unrealistic and risk further educational degradation for our student’s. Their anxiety that the route legislators are taking is hurried and risky isn’t linked to productive alternatives which function in the same way or at the same speed as S.B 1084. My belief, which echoes that of legislators, is to make a difference now. Investing in our keiki’s education today will greatly pay off tomorrow.

Works Cited:

Donnelly, Christine. A Step Ahead at School. Good Beginnings Alliance. Honolulu Star-     Advertiser 12 January, 2014. Web 12 March, 2014.

Eagle, Nathan. Voters To Decide If Hawaii Can Use Public Money For Private Preschool. Civil    Beat 5 May, 2013. Web 12 March, 2014.

Isbell, Alan. What One Teachers Says About Preschool Vouchers and Public Education. Hawaii    State Teachers Association. Honolulu Star-Advertiser – Island Voices 10 February 2013.  Web 12 March, 2014.

Shapiro, Gary et al. “Head Start Impact Study: Final Report 2010.” Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation Administration for Children and Families U.S. Department of Health and  Human Services, January 2010. Web 12 March, 2014.






2 Comments to “Education vs. the HSTA”

  1. Sick of the “It would be immoral to ask rich to pay for Universal Pre-K.”

  2. Creative analysis . I Appreciate the information – Does someone know where my assistant can find a template Employee Injury Report Form copy to type on ?

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