MOUNTAIN VIEW, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is expanding opportunities for early childhood education in public charter schools. A $14.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will help 4-year-old preschool students from low-income families.
Na Wai Ola Public Charter School in Mountain View is one of the first four campuses to offer a free pre-kindergarten program this coming school year using the federal funds.
"It will help them to grow, it will help them to learn. Preschool will also help them prior to going into kindergarten. They will know a lot of things," said Abigail Kunewa, the lead preschool teacher.
"I'd say over 60% to 70% of our children are homeless, living with extended family members, living in vehicles," said principal Daniel Caluya.
The grant will help up to 920 eligible students during the next four years at 18 campuses statewide, according to the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission.
"Our state has a lot of catching up to do with other states when it comes to early childhood education," said Tom Hutton, executive director of the commission. "This is a laboratory where we're able to take this and show then how the high quality then spills out and can benefit the state."
"I hope my child learns in pre-K to have fun, to really understand that education is about having fun, but also socialization, a lot of hands-on, a lot of playtime," said Hayley Ford, the parent of two children at Na Wai Ola.
The first year of the program's implementation focuses on four Big Island schools: Na Wai Ola, Ka Umeke Kaeo, Ke Kula o Nawahiokalaniopuu Iki and Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School. Slots are still open at all of the campuses. Interested families should contact the schools directly.
Public charter schools didn't receive any money in 2014 when lawmakers approved $3 million for Hawaii's first state-funded pre-K program. The rollout included only 20 of the 32 classrooms requested by the Abercrombie administration. The second year of the program will include one additional DOE campus. Last November, voters also rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to use public funds for slots in private preschools.
"I do believe that funding will be the biggest challenge. We have 256 schools and right now we have 21 preschools, and we know that every student will not have the opportunity to attend preschool," said Suzanne Mulcahy, assistant superintendent for the Office of Curriculum Instruction and Student Support.