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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A-Plus fee hike a step closer

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

A state Board of Education committee yesterday gave preliminary approval to a proposed $25-a-month fee increase for students in the A-Plus after-school program, a measure in response to state lawmakers' decision to eliminate the state's subsidy for the childcare program.

The Legislature eliminated some $2 million in state subsidies used to cover the program, which serves nearly 23,000 students.

A BOE committee yesterday voted 5-3 to send a proposal along to the full board.

The cost to operate the program is about $80 a month per child, but the state's subsidy had kept the price down to $55 for the first child in a family since 1996. The proposed fee increase would result in parents covering the entire cost of care.

If the proposal receives approval by the full board, fees would increase next year to $80 for a family's first child, $75 for a second child and $70 for each additional child.

The fee increase is not expected to affect the poorest of public school students. Students who qualify for the federal free- and reduced-price meal program will have their A-Plus after-school fee covered by the state Department of Human Services, said Daniel Hamada, DOE assistant superintendent.

While the majority of committee members supported the measure, BOE leadership voted against the proposal, including BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi, noting that lawmakers eliminated funding for the program while leaving state laws on the books that require the DOE to provide the service.

"I think we need to go back to the Legislature next year and ask them to repeal the statute," said Lei Ahu Isa, BOE vice chairwoman and chairwoman of BOE's Committee on Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support.

"It's just not right. They go and cut the A-Plus program and yet it is in statute," she said.

BOE Kaua'i Member Maggie Cox said she supports the fee increase, noting that the A-Plus program is not part of the DOE's core function.

"That's not our first job to provide after-school care. Not that I'm against the A-Plus program. But I'm not against raising the cost. Eighty dollars, in my estimation, is still cheap for childcare," Cox said.

Lawmakers had used that same justification during the Legislative session to eliminate funding for A-Plus, which began in 1989 and was not expected to add any costs to the DOE's budget. Lawmakers this year argued that A-Plus was not considered educational merely childcare and therefore not a priority during a tough budget year.

The A-Plus program uses school facilities to watch over elementary school students after school, giving them a controlled place to play, do arts and crafts and homework until their parents pick them up in the afternoon.

The $2 million cut to the state's A-Plus subsidy was part of some $142 million in budget cuts by lawmakers and Gov. Linda Lingle to the state Department of Education next year.

The earliest the full BOE could take up the fee increase for approval is May 20.