HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Governor says it's the start of something really big. The state plans to open up 30 public schools for preschool classes. It's all part of an effort to get young kids ready for kindergarten.
Educators say often kids start kindergarten not knowing their ABC's or even their full name and it puts them at a disadvantage. So the push is on for preschool development.
Ka'iulani Elementary is a prime example of the preschool plan. Ninety percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch and many are English language learners. So while preschool could have helped students it was difficult to pay for.
"When you talk about being able to provide and afford quality education at the prekindergarten level it's challenging for our parents," said Rodney Moriwake, Princess Victoria Ka'iulani Elementary School Principal in Kalihi.
That is a reason why Ka'iulani is one of the 30 schools in the state selected to open a preschool.
The preschools will use public classrooms and be staffed with DOE teachers. It's free to four year olds. To qualify a family of four must make less than $50,117 a year. Only 640 kids will be selected to start.
"The numbers may not be as large as we'd like them to be but that's okay too," said Governor Neil Abercrombie. "I'm confident this is the start of something really big."
There is a tradeoff. Instead of going to junior kindergarten about 5,000 students will have to find a preschool. It also means those junior kindergarten teachers may have to find another teaching position, but the DOE isn't anticipating layoffs.
"Frankly we hire a lot of teachers every year so I don't envision that would happen. They may not be at the same school but we do hire 500 to 800 teachers a year," said Kathryn Matayoshi, Department of Education Superintendent. "We are really going to try and avoid (layoffs) because again we really value the qualified teachers that we have."
There still is the question of funding. The Governor is asking the legislature for $4.5 million to fund the public preschools. This particular plan would spend just over $7,000 per student to send the 640 kids to preschool. The Governor is confident he'll get considering the state's $844 million surplus.
"We're on a solid financial foundation and it's going to be solid going into the future so this is an investment it's not a cost. It's an investment. This is not spending. This is investing," said Governor Abercrombie. "The wow factor is the teachers themselves. The wow factor is the kids who respond. The wow factor is the parents who say to the kindergarten teacher I didn't know my child could do that!"
He's banking those wide eyed kids will be better students if the learning starts early.
Parents should pay attention too. The selection criteria for the 640 kids has not been established yet, however it may be determined on a first come first served basis.
We'll have more details tonight on Hawaii News Now at 5:00.