Lieutenant governor unveils ‘bold, credible’ plan to expand preschool in Hawaii

Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said the Ready Keiki program aims to build or refurbish 400 preschool...
Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said the Ready Keiki program aims to build or refurbish 400 preschool classrooms over the next decade.(none)
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 5:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke unveiled the new Ready Keiki initiative on Tuesday, a $200 million public-private partnership to expand preschool services statewide.

Luke said that the state plans to build or refurbish more than 400 pre-kindergarten classes over the next decade, including 80 in the next 18 months.

“Ready Keiki is the pathway to building hundreds of classrooms that are needed to ensure that all three and four year olds who want to attend affordable preschool will have an opportunity,” said Luke.

Social worker Emma Kurashige, who attended the news conference, said having more preschools will be a big help for working parents like her who have struggled to find the right program for their children.

“Being a new parent, we didn’t know. A lot of people told us ‘Oh, you would have to apply maybe a year before they’re even 3 years old,’' the Kaimuki resident said.

“I see a lot of parents struggling with keeping their jobs in order to afford early childhood. So I think that this is not only going to benefit our parents by keeping their jobs but also the children.”

While previous administrations have promoted expanded preschool services, Luke said Ready Keiki is different because it includes county government and private sector involvement.

Luke said the private sector can provide funding for teacher incentives. She added that employers can also qualify for tax incentives to provide preschool and childcare services at or near the work place.

“At the current pace of building public preschools, it would take 47 years to meet the need. And that was unacceptable to all of us ― unacceptable to lieutenant governor who has built this,” said Terry George, CEO of the Harold Castle Foundation.

“So what we have to celebrate today is a bold, credible plan.”

Lawmakers said the investment in early education will result in huge social payoffs.

“The data is crystal clear. Those who attend a high-quality, early learning facilities are more likely to succeed in primary school and beyond. This leads to healthier communities,” said state Rep. Justin Woodson, chair of the House Education Committee.

The program will cost about $14 million a year in staffing and other operational costs. Luke said that money could come from the federal government and additional state funding.

“Many of our young families leave the islands because they can’t afford to have their children in preschool or daycare,” said state Sen. Michelle Kidani, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“And so I’m really excited about this next step that we’re taking.”