Pass my initiatives; don’t worry about the details.
That, more or less, was what I heard echoing out of the House Finance Committee this week when Governor Abercrombie testified for his early childhood education program.
His proposals would create a publicly funded educational preschool system, establish a program to prepare young children for school environments and ask voters to amend the Constitution to allow public funding of some private schools.
Abercrombie provided insufficient details of his plan but seemed to want legislators to advance it based on faith. His presentation oversimplified these complex proposals into an unfair question about whether or not we value education for Hawaii’s youth.
It is no secret that the governor is approaching the next election in need of a signature accomplishment. But it’s unfortunate that he would use Hawaii’s children to that end. If this sincerely were all about the children, he would welcome questions and criticisms to help create an educational system as perfect and sustainable as possible. But the inconvenient fact is, a program of this size and complexity takes time to implement well. And he knows he is running out of time.
Straightforward questions from the committee about how much money the program will require and how many children it will serve were met with evolving answers. The governor’s Executive Office on Early Learning – the very people who will be charged with implementing this program – was all too ready to amend the plan and consider new ideas.
Abercrombie testified, “Everybody is so anxious to get started in this, they’re going to make decisions in rapid order.”
It’s far too late in the game for that kind of ambiguity. Hawaii’s families deserve these answers now.
In government, implementation is at least as important as motives and worthy goals. Even when a program begins with good intentions, it can end up wasting huge sums of public money while creating a bureaucratic mess. The kind of blissful ignorance the governor seemed to ask of the Legislature is exactly what creates some of the worst problems in state government.
When I ran for office, I made a commitment to my community that I would take this responsibility seriously. It’s troubling that the chief executive would be satisfied with these unanswered questions and ask others to be satisfied with them, too.
I believe deeply in the value of education – it’s the single greatest way we can help families rise out of poverty and improve our economy for the long term. But as the governor himself would argue, this is all about the children. For their sake, we must do it right. And that requires thoughtful vetting and time.
About the author: Rep. Richard Fale represents Waiahole, Ka’a’awa, Punalu’u, Hau’ula, Laie, Kahuku, Haleiwa and Waialua.