Early learning in Hawaii should be expanded

In November there will be a question on the ballot that will ask voters whether public funds can be used to fund private, community-based preschools. If voters approve, the state will be allowed to fund quality preschool experiences at private, community-based preschools such as those operated by Kamaaina Kids, Montessori School of Maui and Kahului Hongwanji.

While we await the outcome of the vote, the state’s Executive Office on Early Learning is requesting additional resources to increase the number of 4-year-olds who will be able to access preschool this August.

There will be an increased number of 4-year-olds – about 5,100 – who need a school experience but are too young to go to kindergarten due to the change in kindergarten entry age that takes effect the 2014-2015 school year.

Last year, state legislators funded the Preschool Open Doors program, which covers 1,200 of the 5,100 children at private, community-based preschools. However, with more than 17,000 4-year-olds in Hawaii, many more families want access to quality preschools.

The Hawaii Department of Education has identified 32 classrooms in 30 public schools that can operate a prekindergarten program on their campuses. Some of these schools already have prekindergarten programs that use funding sources that will be ending. Gov. Neil Abercombie’s request for $4.5 million would be able to support access to prekindergarten experiences for 640 free- and reduced-price meal-eligible children. The ratios in these classrooms will be 10 students to one adult.

The governor is also asking for $1 million for EOEL to contract with family-child interaction learning programs (where a parent attends with a child) to increase the number of 4-year-olds – about 400 – who will benefit from this learning opportunity.

The purpose of all of these programs is to increase the number of 4-year-olds who would have the opportunity for a prekindergarten experience. Research shows that consistent, high-quality early childhood education can have long-lasting and positive effects on children. We need to build a solid infrastructure to give our keiki the opportunities they deserve to build a brighter future.

* GG Weisenfeld is the director of the state Executive Office on Early Learning.