Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Child advocacy
groups want more
preschool funds

A report says only 9 percent
of education funds are being
spent on those under age 5

By Crystal Kua

More money should be invested on the education and care of children under age 5 in Hawaii, according to two child advocacy groups.

Data in the Children's Budget Analysis Issue Brief, collected by Good Beginnings Alliance and Hawaii Kids Watch, show that only about 9 percent of federal, state, county and private charitable funds spent on children are going to programs that benefit youngsters from birth to 5 years of age.

The percentage of funding for spending for older children comes to 91 percent, the report says.

"I think we're concerned on the long road that it's hard to make an impact on the quality of care in terms of investment," said Kathleen Reinhardt, Hawaii Kids Watch children's budget analysis project director. "It really comes down to dollars."

Both Reinhardt and Good Beginnings Alliance Executive Director Liz Chun said the report also shows that spending sooner instead of later for children could prevent remedial problems down the line, reducing some of the costs associated with educating older children.

"We really do need to have some kind of a strategy to change things, because it's not going to automatically remediate itself," Reinhardt said.

The analysis covers topics such as school readiness, programs that help young children, preschool spending, child-care costs and early attention to social and emotional health.

"I think it's important for both policy makers, as well as the public, to know how resources are being allocated in this state for young children," Chun said.

The analysis uses 1999 figures, but the general picture holds true today, although funding for preschool subsidies has improved over the past couple of years.

For example, the Legislature this past session appropriated $5 million in construction funds over the next two years for the Pre-Plus program, a partnership between the Department of Education and private school providers -- the department provides the facilities, and the providers run the preschool program. The money is enough to set up 10 to 15 sites around the state.

But Chun said Pre-Plus needs 66 classrooms to serve the estimated 8,000 needy children the program is targeting. "More state money needs to be allocated," she said.

The budget study also shows that nearly half of the families with children in this age fall under the poverty level. "It really shows that parents aren't able to afford (preschool)," Chun said. "For the most at risk, we can't put them at the best places."

That is where programs like Open Doors, which provides preschool scholarships for needy families, come in, she said.

For an Open Doors application, call 587-5254 from Oahu or 1-800-746-5620 from the neighbor islands.

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