A push for state-run preschools in Hawaii

Universal Preschool in Hawaii? Its fate to be decided.

photo: thinkstock

Next summer, Hawaii is raising the school age for entering kindergarteners, effectively banning students from starting public school before they turn 5.

At the same time, the Hawaii Department of Education is eliminating a junior kindergarten program that currently exists for students who turn 5 between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31.

According to Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance, these changes could affect up to 5,100 late-born children. The oldest of these keiki may have to wait almost an extra year before entering the public school system.

That’s a year that young children can be learning social, motor and academic skills to prepare them for kindergarten. These skills can be picked up in a good preschool, but not all parents can afford tuition prices that might top $1,000 a month.

“It’s one of the big social injustice issues,” Zysman says. “Without (early education programs), they’re way behind their peers. We want to close achievement gaps and disparities early.”

Good Beginnings Alliance and other early childhood advocacy groups have joined together under Be My Voice! Hawaii to push for a quality, developmentally-appropriate state-funded preschool program to help prepare Hawaii’s pre-K set for kindergarten.

It’s not a new concept. According to Zysman, 39 states already have state-supported preschool programs. Like Hawaii, the other 10 states who don’t are also considering universal preschool programs.

With different models all across the nation, “We can learn a lot from other states,” Zysman says.

So far, the state-funded preschool initiative proposed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie lives on at the Capitol, where its fate will be decided by the end of the Legislative session in May. The House has already approved putting money for a school readiness program in the budget but the real details will be hammered out in the coming weeks as House and Senate lawmakers work on their priority legislation in conference committees.

“Our overall goal is to ensure that all children have preschool experience before they enter kindergarten,” Zysman says.

For more information, visit bemyvoicehawaii.org/learn/get_informed.


Treena Shapiro is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and editor. She has worked previously for the Honolulu Advertiser, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Associated Press. She currently lives in Windward Oahu with her husband, two children and a pair of cockatiels.