HONOLULU — A top priority for the governor is a $4.5 million funding request for 32 preschool classrooms at 30 public schools in underserved or rural Hawaii communities.
Executive Office on Early Learning Director GG Weisenfeld answered questions Monday about the request at an informational briefing of the state House Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. The state Legislature reconvenes next week.
The 30 schools where the pre-K classes will be established haven’t been announced, but they will be in areas where there is limited access to private preschool programs. It’s a piece of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s proposal for publicly funded universal preschool. Hawaii is one of few states without state-funded preschool.
Waianae Rep. Jo Jordan said all of the elementary schools in her community fit that profile, but she’s concerned the schools don’t have room for expansion. “I don’t see how you’re going to place any of those programs at my elementary schools because we don’t have the space,” she said.
Weisenfeld said the identified schools have the support from principals. She explained to the legislators that the classrooms will be for 640 students whose families meet income and geography restrictions. The students must also be late-born 4-year-olds affected by an upcoming change in the age students may enter kindergarten.
The office is also requesting $2.5 million to increase subsidies for the Preschool Open Doors program, which helps pay for tuition at private providers.
The students attending the public pre-K program would attend for free because the state Department of Education can’t collect tuition from parents.