Hawaii's early learning plans focus on preschool

Hawaii's early learning plans focus on preschool
Published: Jan. 8, 2014 at 10:41 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 8, 2014 at 11:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Parents with kids approaching kindergarten have some major changes to think about. Junior kindergarten will end after this school year and the state is steering kids into preschools.

While kindergarteners count by tens, the state is counting by millions, as in the funding needed to send thousands of four year olds to preschool. The Executive Office on Early Learning received $8 million already and is asking for another $8 million this approaching legislative session to send 2,240 kids to preschool.

"Do we want to have preschool? Whatever the cost is it's an investment," said Governor Neil Abercrombie.

Ask a kindergarten teacher and they'll say they notice the difference between kids who went to preschool and those who didn't.

"We need to work twice as hard with them just to bring them up to speed, and by the time we bring them up to speed we also need to work double time to bring them forward to where they need to be. So preschool is really important," said Iris Togashi, Kalanianaole School Kindergarten Teacher.

It's more important because this fall there's no more junior kindergarten. And kids that don't turn five years old by July 31 will have to wait another year before starting school. Instead they'll need to go to a preschool. So parents have homework. Start reading to kids and search for qualified preschools.

"They should start planning now. They should really be working with their current preschool program if they're enrolled to see if there is space. If they're not in a preschool program they should really start thinking about if there is one in their community," said GG Weisenfeld, Executive Office on Early Learning Director.

"We're ready. We're ready," proclaimed Governor Abercrombie, during a speech at today's early learning symposium.

Ready, but they still need voters to approve a constitutional amendment this November that would let the state spend public money at private preschools.

"This is a statewide problem. Half of the children in this state, many whose families can't afford it, are not going to preschool and thus not ready for kindergarten. That is the issue and the constitutional amendment clearly paves the way for us to address it now and continue to build it in the future," said Dee Jay Mailer, Kamehameha Schools CEO. "It's all about getting half of our children who don't get preschool to get it now."

It could mean the difference between reaching for the stars or status quo.

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