Funding cut for pre-K program leaves families scrambling for care

Funding cut for pre-K program leaves families scrambling for care

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Students are gearing up for the new school year, but some families hoping to enroll their children in pre-kindergarten have been left in limbo.

State lawmakers cut the funding for seven positions at campuses involved in the Executive Office on Early Learning's Public Prekindergarten Program for at-risk and underserved families.

“We prioritize families who have really some of the highest need, including low-income families, those who are homeless,” said Early Learning Executive Director Lauren Moriguchi. “So we serve a population that would otherwise not have access to high-quality early learning programs.”

Moriguchi said state lawmakers eliminated the funding for one teacher and six educational assistants at the following elementary schools: Likelike, Kula, Honokaa, Hookena, Kohala, Mountain View and Pahala.

She said the seven positions appeared to be vacant on paper because the people filling them weren't permanent hires.

"Governor has made it a priority to make sure that all of our keiki have access to high-quality early learning programs, and we really don't want to see any of the existing programs close," Moriguchi said.

The seven sites would usually be able to serve 140 students, but if the funding is secured, there would only be room for up to 105 children due to social distancing guidelines.

Families received a letter Monday letting them know that Gov. David Ige hasn’t made a final decision yet about providing the $250,000 needed for the positions.

"We do recognize that we have a significant budget shortfall, and just really looking at and trying to categorize programs that are important, core services that we provide," Ige said.

Jessica Oyanagi applied to have her 4-year-old daughter, Colette, attend the prekindergarten program at Kula Elementary School on Maui.

The family was disappointed to learn that the program might not be offered.

"It was pretty heartbreaking for us. Colette was really excited to go to school with her older sibling. We were really excited for the opportunity," Oyanagi said.

“It’s anxiety inducing for a lot of parents, a lot of working parents.”

The new school year is set to begin on August 4.

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