Hawaii parents encouraged to seek preschool aid


HONOLULU — Hawaii officials are encouraging parents to apply for preschool subsidies, even if they don’t think they’ll qualify.

A change in the age children can enter kindergarten has some parents worried about paying for an extra year of preschool. Next school year, students must be 5 on July 31 to enter kindergarten the same year. Previously, children could enter kindergarten if they turned 5 by December 31.

Families are encouraged to apply for a piece of $6 million in preschool subsidies even if they don’t think they’ll qualify, because the data may help lawmakers make future funding decisions, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday.

State officials and early education advocacy groups are looking at ways to make preschool more affordable in a state where the average cost to attend an accredited preschool is more than $800 a month. Hawaii is one of 11 states without state-funded preschool, and only about 40 percent of Hawaii’s 4-year-olds attend preschool.

“Part of the onus is really going to be taking a look at what the demand is out there and what the Legislature will be able to do with limited resources,” said Democratic state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education.

Lawmakers scaled down Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s $25 million school readiness proposal to $6 million to expand the Preschool Open Doors program. The money will help pay for preschool for about one-fifth of the estimated 5,000 children who be affected by the kindergarten age change. Families should be able to apply in March.

“The desire is to perhaps try to increase the subsidies provided to Preschool Open Doors,” Tokuda said.

GG Weisenfeld, executive director of the Office on Early Learning, said her office is working with the state Department of Education to possibly set up preschool programs on public school campuses in rural areas, or communities where there are limited preschool options.

“Subsidies are one solution, but we need to ensure equitable access for all children to attend a program to get ready for school,” she said.