New classrooms opening this fall seen as big step toward achieving universal preschool

Lawmakers say the cost of child care is just too high.
Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 6:20 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 27, 2023 at 7:44 PM HST
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WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state plans to open 11 new free public preschool classrooms this fall as part of the Ready Keiki initiative.

On Thursday, lawmakers got a look at one of the classrooms at Wailuku Elementary School on Maui.

This August, it will be the learning hub for 20 children, ages three and four, at no cost to their parents.

“Preschool and childcare costs as much as $1,500 a month,” said Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke.

“That’s equivalent to somebody’s rent. Can you imagine somebody who is working so hard, middle-income families, working families are not only paying rent, they’re also paying for childcare expenses.

“This will be a huge burden off many of our working families.”

For Sierra London, mother of four, it’s a dream come true.

“Oh, definitely. I feel like everyone can benefit from free childcare. Of course. Who wouldn’t want free childcare?” she said. “And especially the kids because they can learn more. They can be around kids their age, they can socialize, and they can also just benefit from being around an actual teacher.”

In addition to Wailuku Elementary School, a classroom will open at Hana High and Elementary School, one on Hawaii Island, one on Kauai and seven on Oahu.

Luke said they are ahead of schedule and under budget. A single classroom renovation was originally budgeted for $1 million. However, they were able to get it done under $500,000 each.

Luke said that extra funding will go toward opening more classrooms.

She said they were also able to secure additional funding this past legislative session that will go toward paying those preschool teachers.

She said it is a major step forward in achieving universal access to preschool for all of Hawaii’s keiki.

The state’s goal is 465 classrooms statewide by 2032.

“I’m excited because this is an opportunity for us to serve our community, for us to provide the needed childcare that we need around here,” said Wailuku Elementary School Principal Nikan Arapoff.

“Also, it’s going to help prepare the students for kindergarten and prepare them to be successful participants in society, so that we can be locally committed and globally competitive.”

Luke said the plan is to also have these classrooms in high schools. “What we would like to do is open preschools in some of the high schools to be a teaching classroom,” she said.

Luke said that will hopefully inspire future educators and help solve the teacher shortage.

Applications are now open. Deadlines vary by school. To apply, click here.

Anyone with questions is asked to call (808) 784-5350.

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