Hawaii teachers union backs public pre-K plan


HONOLULU — The union representing Hawaii’s public school teachers is now supporting the idea of funding pre-kindergarten classes at public schools.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association previously opposed many of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s proposals for publicly funded universal preschool. Hawaii is one of 11 states without state-funded preschool.

The HSTA is now making it a priority to lobby legislators to fund pre-kindergarten classes at public schools in an effort to preserve teaching jobs and help children who will be affected by an upcoming change in kindergarten age, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

Key to the HSTA’s support is ensuring qualified teachers are in pre-kindergarten classes.

“Not all preschools in the private sector are licensed or have certified teachers,” said HSTA President Wil Okabe.

Starting next school year, children will need to be at least 5 years old by July 31 to enroll in public school kindergarten. An estimated 5,000 late-born children, and the jobs of about 283 junior kindergarten teachers, will be affected, according to estimates from the state Department of Education.

Lawmakers approved $6 million in preschool subsidies for low-income families, which will help about 900 4-year-olds.

The union also wants pre-kindergarten and kindergarten to be mandatory to help secure public funding, Okabe said.

The union wants to ensure consistency for when students start kindergarten at public schools, Okabe said.

It likely won’t be feasible to take on an entire additional grade level at public schools, said GG Weisenfeld, director of the Executive Office on Early Learning.

Hawaii voters will decide next year whether the state can spend public money on private preschool programs.