East Hawaii News

New Law Expands Preschool Opportunities for Hawaii Keiki

June 24, 2013, 1:11 PM HST
* Updated June 24, 2:04 PM
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed into law a bill aimed at increasing access to preschool for Hawaii children.

Senate Bill 1093 establishes the Preschool Open Doors Program, which is designed to be the foundation for what is expected to become a state-funded, early-childhood education program for Hawaii.

The initiative is designed to prepare keiki for kindergarten by improving their physical, linguistic, social and emotional development.

According to the bill, a study showed that during the past school year, only 40% of kindergarten classes had a majority of students who were prepared with school behaviors and skills.

It was no coincidence, the bill said, that the Hawaii State School Readiness Assessment also showed that only 57% of kindergarten students had attended preschool.

The new program will serve 4-year-old children, with priority given to at-risk keiki, including those from low- or moderate-income families.

It will also serve “gap children” – those not eligible to attend public school kindergarten in the school year they turn five because their birth date occurs after the kindergarten eligibility date, which is July 31.

The bill appropriates $1.1 million over the next two years to the state Department of Human Services to administer the program, and $6 million in the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2014 for subsidies for the program.

Enrollment in the program will be voluntary, with families sharing in its costs through a co-payment based on those subsidies using a sliding fee scale based on need.

Abercrombie said in a statement that preparing keiki for entering kindergarten has been among his top priorities.

“No other piece of legislation this year was more important,” he said. “I firmly believe that giving keiki a strong early childhood education foundation is the best, most effective way to empower their success in life.”

Those applauding the new law included the Good Beginnings Alliance, a leading advocacy for children from pre-birth to 8 years old.

“School Readiness is an important first step toward assuring that families with children in Hawai‘i have access to preschool,” said Deborah Zysman, the organization’s executive director. “We are elated that the foundation for a state-funded preschool system is now in place.”

***Updated at 2:05 p.m.***

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