[ STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS ]
boosts for schools
Lingle wants to raise funding
to preschools and the university
After coming up short last year in her efforts to remake Hawaii's public school system, Gov. Linda Lingle is homing in on three other aspects of education: preschools, charter schools and the University of Hawaii.
In her State of the State speech yesterday, Lingle called for boosting financial aid to "gap group" families who cannot afford preschool and offering incentives for preschools to set high standards and attract more teachers.
"Many working families forgo quality child care because they simply can't afford it," she said. "In addition, the existing preschool programs cannot keep up with demand. This means too many children are entering the school system without the basic skills they need to succeed."
She said her Early Childhood Education Initiative would enable another 3,000 children to attend high-quality preschools. It includes $5 million more in state money for the Preschool Open Doors program, which helps low-income families and now receives $3.2 million in state funds.
"It's a very big jump," said Liz Chun, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance. "That would make a huge difference."
She added: "We are very pleased that the governor's focusing on early-childhood education. We feel it's wise to invest resources to stimulate preschool quality and to expand eligibility or access to more families."
For charter schools, which are public schools that have greater autonomy than other campuses, the governor called for "a fair share of the state's education funding." She also wants to increase the number of charter schools and allow authorities other than the Board of Education to oversee them.
The state now has 27 charter schools, serving more than 5,000 of the state's 182,000 public school students. A recent state audit criticized some charter school operations and a lack of oversight over them. It urged the Legislature and the Board of Education to improve the charter school law.
Some legislators concur with the need to amend the law but advise caution in creating more charter schools before handling the problems that have cropped up on some of these experimental campuses.
"In light of the audit, do we want to create more leaky boats, or do we want to make some adjustments prior to expanding the charter school fleet?" asked Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) after Lingle's speech.
But Sen. Mark Moses (R, Makakilo-Kapolei) backed Lingle's idea.
Charter schools "do seem to do a little better, and they do it on half the cost," he said. "Why not allow more?"
For the University of Hawaii, Lingle's budget includes $80 million to rebuild and replace deteriorated buildings and $20 million to build a Hawaiian Language Building at UH-Hilo. She also earmarked $45 million more for scholarships and operations, which she called "the largest infusion of additional funding in the university's history."
Interim UH President David McClain said he was "delighted" by Lingle's speech. He said the $80 million for facilities improvement would provide "a really significant boost in our efforts to make our facilities what they should be."
Sakamoto, however, said most of the $20 million for scholarships was transferred from the tuition waiver program, "so that is not new money," but he supports the move.
Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) noted that Lingle failed to mention state public schools.
"I was very disappointed that the governor did not mention kindergarten through 12th grade in the regular public school system," said Hooser, who is vice chairman of the education committee. "The schools need money to reduce class size, and money for special education."
The Department of Education wants $81.8 million more in the next two years than Lingle is willing to provide. The DOE says the governor's education budget would result in a loss of 163 badly needed special-education teachers.
Lingle "talked about preschools and the university, but the core of our public education system she neglected to mention, and I hope that's not an indication of her pulling back her support," Hooser said.