HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kamehameha Schools, the state's largest preschools operator, has donated $500,000 toward an effort to pass a constitutional amendment allowing state money to be spent on private preschools in a ballot battle where $1 million could be spent by both sides.
In July, the Good Beginnings Alliance -- a nonprofit that wants voters to approve the amendment -– got the large donation from Kamehameha Schools, the state's largest private landowner.
"Contributing to public education is nothing new to us, and the constitutional amendment is just another of those things," said Chris Pating, Kamehameha's vice president for strategic planning, who oversees community programs including preschools.
Pating said the half million is a tiny fraction of the $50 million a year the trust spends on educating kids five and younger, running 30 preschools statewide with about 1,600 hundred students.
"Early education, as you know, is extremely important," Pating said. "It's a big part of who we have been and who we are and we think it's a key leverage point to helping us achieve our mission, which is increasing capability and well-being of Native Hawaiians through education."
Pating said Kamehameha will not gain financially if the amendment passes, since the trust will not take state or federal funds for preschool efforts.
The Good Beginnings Alliance said Kamehameha's large donation will allow the group to mount a media campaign with television and radio commercials but other money is coming in.
"We've had donations of $10 and $50 and thousands of dollars and that's wonderful, so we think it's about all of us," said Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance.
The state's public school teachers' union, which opposes the pre-school amendment, will spend at least $100,000 and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars on its own TV and radio ads, said Wil Okabe, HSTA president.
"Kamehameha Schools is a private school and we anticipate that all the private schools will be campaigning heavily against our message, which is to vote no," Okabe said. "We know if big business is involved, we're going to be outspent."
The Hawaii State Teachers Association, with 13,500 members, will also mail out a brochure called "Vote NO on Giving Public Money to Private Schools."
Its volunteers will take the brochure door-to-door.
"A grassroots campaign with our teachers and with families on the ground, explaining to them why we believe that public should be public. And public funds should be used for public activities in the state of Hawaii," Okabe said.
Okabe said he hopes his parent organization, the National Education Association, which is the country's largest union, will also send funds to Hawaii to fight against the preschool amendment.
An NEA spokesman in Washington, D.C. told Hawaii News Now Friday that "NEA's campaign plans are still pretty much a work in progress," and he had no information about whether the group was committing money to oppose the ballot measure.
Zysman, head of the group pushing for passage of the amendment, said,"What this vote does is it really just allow for options in how we can deliver our early education. That's what this vote does. It doesn't come with any money attached. It doesn't come with any specific program delivery. That will be up to the legislature and our next governor."