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Children and supporters rally for preschool education initiative

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:10 a.m. HST, Mar 15, 2013

Hundreds of children, parents and education advocates descended on Hawaii’s Capitol Thursday to spur lawmakers to vote for Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s preschool initiative.

The rally came a day after the House Committee on Education adopted three bills relating to the cause. The proposals passed the Senate last week but are still waiting to be heard by the House Judiciary and Finance committees.

Despite their legislative momentum, the proposals hinge on what money is available. Lawmakers are still debating the state budget for the 2013-15 fiscal years, which will cover operating costs for state departments and capital improvement projects. Funding for the multimillion dollar preschool program will depend on what’s left over. 

But many said today that early childhood education should be the state’s highest priority. And in addition to conventional preschool, advocates want the state to adopt alternative programs that include parents in the learning process.

The House Education Committee agreed Wednesday to amend one of preschool-related bills to allow the state to fund “license-exempt” institutions in addition to regular preschool centers starting in the 2014-15 school year. 

That gives advocates hope that the state could fund Family Child Interaction Learning, a program in which parents attend preschool along with their children. 

Kanoe Naone, CEO of the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture, says the program costs much less than traditional preschool while achieving statistically significant educational results. 

Interactive learning would cost the state up to $3,000 per child, which is one- third the cost of learning at a conventional preschool center, Naone said. The option is particularly important for Native Hawaiian families who may have had negative experiences in traditional schools, she said.

Along that line, education advocates also hope that the state could fund home visiting programs in which educators visit families in their homes. 

Natasha Boteilho, a mother of two who lives in Waianae Homestead Valley, said she chose to enroll her kids in a home visiting program because she can’t afford the cost of traditional preschool.  

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