Pre-K plan comprises 640 students, 30 campuses

HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

Pre-K plan comprises 640 students, 30 campuses


By Nanea Kalani

About 640 children from low-income families across the state will be eligible to enroll in pre-kindergarten classes next year at 30 public school campuses that were announced Thursday by the state’s Executive Office on Early Learning and the Department of Education.

The plan is contingent on $4.5 million in state funding that legislators have yet to consider. But Gov. Neil Abercrombie says he’s confident the Legislature will make the investment.

The money would establish 32 classrooms offering pre-kindergarten classes free of charge (public schools cannot charge tuition) for children who qualify geographically and financially. The income guidelines for free or reduced-price lunch will be used, meaning a family of four cannot earn more than $50,117 to qualify.

The plan is part of Abercrombie’s push for universal state-funded preschool. Hawaii is among 11 states without public preschool.

WHO’S INVOLVED

Here’s a list of the public elementary schools slated for pre-kindergarten classes for the 2014-15 school year:

» Oahu: Hauula, Kahaluu, Kailua, Kaiulani, Keolu, Leihoku, Likelike, Linapuni, Nanaikapono, Nanakuli, Maili, Makaha, Waiahole, Waialua and Waianae

» Hawaii island: Honaunau, Honokaa, Hookena, Keaau, Keonepoko, Konawaena, Mountain View, Naalehu, Pahoa, and Kau High and Pahala Elementary

» Kauai: Eleele and Kekaha elementary schools

» Maui: Hana High and Elementary

» Molokai: Kaunakakai Elementary

» Lanai: Lanai High and Elementary

Half of the public pre-kindergarten classes would be on neighbor islands. The proposed list of schools includes 15 on Oahu; one each on Maui, Molokai and Lanai; 10 on Hawaii island; and two on Kauai. Abercrombie helped announce the sites at a news conference at Princess Victoria Kaiulani Elementary in Kalihi, one of the Oahu schools expected to participate.

“It’s really the beginning of something that we can be very optimistic about,” Abercrombie said. “We’re creating access for children statewide.”

Officials said schools were chosen based on community needs, available facilities, Title 1 status (where 35 percent or more of students qualify for free or reduced lunch—a key indicator of poverty) and support from principals and administrators.

The program will be a collaboration with the Department of Education, with oversight and professional development for teachers falling under the governor’s Executive Office on Early Learning.

“I think it is a real acknowledgement of the commitment of our schools, our principals, to the importance of readiness for kindergarten,” said DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

At a budget briefing at the Capitol on Monday, some lawmakers questioned the timing of announcing school sites before the Legislature has approved any funding.

“I’m confident that the Legislature will see the efficacy of this. With the leadership that we have in the Legislature, there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to take place,” the governor said Thursday. “The real issue over and over again has been cost. ... This is an investment. It’s not a cost. This is not spending. This is investing that has real positive dividends that are measurable and objective.”

GG Weisenfeld, director of the Executive Office on Early Learning, has been seeking out avenues for the state to expand access to preschool for all children ahead of a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters in November. If passed, it would allow the state to contract with private preschool providers to build added capacity to eventually serve all of the state’s 17,200 4-year-olds.

“What we don’t want is to say, ‘Because we can’t do everything at once, we’re not going to do anything at all,’” Abercrombie said. “Quite the opposite. We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can.”

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, who chairs the Senate Committee on Education and also sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said she’s optimistic the funding for the initial 32 pre-kindergarten classes will come through.

“I think that what we have before us is a modest request. And I think what it really signifies is a huge opportunity for us to provide options for students to make sure that they’re ready for kindergarten once that day comes,” Tokuda (D, Kaneohe-Kailua) said.

Most of the 30 schools were already providing junior kindergarten, designed for late-born 4-year-olds too young for kindergarten.

But next school year, the state will eliminate junior kindergarten and move to a higher kindergarten entry age, affecting an estimated 5,100 4-year-olds who will not be eligible to enroll. As many as 280 teaching jobs also could be affected.

During the past regular legislative session, lawmakers chose to expand an existing child care program that provides preschool tuition subsidies rather than fund the governor’s push for state-funded preschool. Lawmakers converted a request for a $25 million proposed school readiness program into a $6 million expansion of Preschool Open Doors, which provides assistance for low-income families to send their children to private preschool. Those subsidies will help cover the cost of preschool for about 900 needy children.

Tokuda said the $6 million in subsidies “was a great first step, but by no means should that be the end of it.” She added, “Helping only 900 kids leaves so many working families and so many communities out in the cold.”