HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State leaders want to give all kids a chance to succeed in school and they hope they can do that with an early start.
Hawaii is one of 11 states without a state-funded early learning program. Governor Neil Abercrombie describes it as a "readiness divide"—separating children with a preschool foundation who are ready to succeed in kindergarten—from those who are not.
"It's not fair to the children. It's not fair to the teachers and its not fair to the tax payers as a whole," said Governor Neil Abercrombie.
State officials hope to change that with a new school readiness program designed to work with existing private non-profits and expanding them to make preschool universal for all. Abercrombie is asking for state legislators to approve a $32.5 million plan to make that happen. $28.9 million is expected to cover the costs for about 3,500 hundred children.
"We need to have the broadest foundation of children prepared for school, and so that's an investment I think this legislature will recognize as being a top priority," said Gov. Abercrombie.
State officials plan to have the program in place by the 2014-2015 school year—in time to accommodate the thousands of children who won't be able to enroll in Kindergarten after the new birth date cutoff goes into effect. Children who are not 5 by July 31st won't be eligible to start Kindergarten.
The school readiness program will be five days a week and will mirror the Department of Education schedule—making it more convenient for parents with older children already in school. Families of four making $53,000 or less will be able to enroll for free and a sliding scale fee will apply to those who make more.
As a policy-maker, but more importantly, as a parent – Senator Jill Tokuda says implementing a state-funded preschool program will reshape Hawaii's future.
"The change would be phenomenal in both the short, the medium and the long-term," said Senator Tokuda. "The impacts would be astronomical from an economic scale, taking a look at our communities, taking a look at crime rates, taking a look at quality of life. I don't think I would even be able to quantify what we'd be able to see in terms of results."
Eventually—state officials want to make preschool available to all of the state's 4-year-olds, but it could take 8 years to make that a reality.
The school readiness program still needs to be approved by state legislators, but officials say there is an added sense of urgency to get it passed before the new Kindergarten birth date cutoff goes into effect next year.
To learn more about the state's school readiness program, visit: http://earlylearning.hawaii.gov/