HONOLULU - Hawaii legislators are putting off decisions about the details of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's proposed preschool program, his main legislative priority this session. They plan to meet later this week to continue discussions and perhaps vote on revised bills.
Senators and representatives met Wednesday in conference committees, groups of lawmakers from both chambers who meet to debate the details of bills.
The three bills creating the program have passed both chambers, but that doesn't ensure their success. The proposals could still die if lawmakers can't come to an agreement in conference committees.
One bill would create a school readiness program for the 2014-15 school year. Sen. Jill Tokuda said Wednesday that Abercrombie sent lawmakers a memo on Wednesday asking them to consider changing the bill to place the program under the Department of Human Services. She said she wasn't surprised by the suggestion because the idea had been debated. Rep. Roy Takumi said during the hearing that House lawmakers are open to the change.
Critics of the school readiness proposal have questioned whether the state should invest in a program that doesn't have educational requirements. The Hawaii state constitution prohibits state funding of educational institutions, and preschool advocates are pushing for a constitutional amendment to change that. But the amendment wouldn't be on the ballot until 2014.
Tokuda said the readiness program would be rigorous and a building block for the preschool program, which could start in 2015. Lawmakers plan to revisit the school readiness bill Friday.
Lawmakers also discussed the bill proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to fund preschool providers. Senators decided Wednesday to adopt House lawmakers' changes to the bill, which includes a nondiscrimination clause.
Tokuda wants the committee to vote today on the measure to make sure it can be sent to Abercrombie by Friday. She said there is an urgent need to vote because Friday is the deadline for all constitutional amendment proposals to go to the governor.
The third preschool-related bill creates a full-fledged preschool program to start in 2015. Lawmakers pushed back discussing a new draft until Friday.
The conference committees also put off voting for other education-related bills, including a proposal to give teachers a tax credit for buying school supplies and a bill to give the Department of Education more flexibility in school bus contracts.