Star-Advertiser: Preschool Program Expansion Funds Cleared 6/25/13

[Note: The following excerpts are from Nanea Kalani’s “Abercrombie Clears Funds and Preschool Program’s Expansion” (Star-Advertiser, 25 June 2013). See the press release.]

Subhead: “The new law falls short of the governor’s call for a universal education readiness initiative”

Governor Neil Abercrombie

Governor Neil Abercrombie

Senate Bill 1093 — now Act 151 — will expand the existing Preschool Open Doors program under the state Department of Human Services with an additional $6 million for subsidies to help pay for about 900 children to attend preschool next year.

Preference will be given to children from low- and middle-income families and those underserved or at risk. Children from low-income families would be able to attend for free, while children from middle- and higher-income families would pay fees on a sliding scale.

The bill also requires participating preschool providers to conduct school-readiness assessments and prepare children for school through either English or Hawaiian language.

“It’s a start. That’s all it is, is a start. But it’s everything,” Abercrombie said at a news conference Monday at Washington Place. “For the first time, the state will be codifying into law a commitment to preparing young children for success in school and in life.”

Hawaii is one of 11 states without a state-funded early learning program to help children prepare for kindergarten. 

Abercrombie had made the creation of a school readiness program the top priority in his two-year budget draft, asking for $2.9 million for planning in fiscal year 2014 and $28.2 million to serve about 3,500 at-risk 4-year-olds in fiscal year 2015.

Those plans would have accommodated 4-year-olds who will no longer have the option of junior kindergarten at public schools because the state is eliminating the program after the 2013-2014 school year.

But lawmakers this session scaled down or deferred the governor’s early-education initiatives. They did, however, agree to place a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot asking voters whether public money can be spent on private early-education programs. That would allow the state to work with private educational providers.

Abercrombie said that while the expanded Preschool Open Doors program won’t provide services to as many children as planned, he anticipates legislators will want to expand it further.

“I am well satisfied that the foundation that is in this bill will be so solid, and the implementation of it will be so complete, that the Legislature will find next January that it is only too eager to have the expansion and continued support for early childhood development and education at the top of its list,” he said.

The governor called it a “civic sin to allow some children to fall behind because they do not happen to have the best economic advantages or circumstances.”

Fewer than half of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds attend preschool programs, said Terry Lock, director of the governor’s Executive Office on Early Learning.

Sen. Jill N. Tokuda

Sen. Jill N. Tokuda

Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said the Department of Human Services is working on reporting requirements to ensure preschool providers are providing access to school readiness services that address children’s physical, cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional development, as called for in the bill.

Rep. Takashi Ohno

Rep. Takashi Ohno

Rep. Takashi Ohno, vice chairman of the House Education Committee and a former elementary school teacher, added, “My support for this is a very simple one: it’s that one day all children will succeed regardless of where you’re born, who your parents are, what country you come from.”

For information on Preschool Open Doors, visit patchhawaii.org/families/paying/preschool.

Click here to read the complete article.

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