Back in 1989, I wrote a letter to the Lieutenant Governor strongly encouraging the State to fund preschool education. At that time, the Lieutenant Governor was involved in a study to determine whether universal preschool was economically feasible.
As an Early Childhood Education major in college, I have always been a proponent of early intervention and equal access to quality preschool programs. I taught with the federally-funded Headstart program for fifteen years, and I saw the difference it made in preparing students for success in kindergarten and beyond. The parents also were beneficiaries of this program. By volunteering in the classroom, observing the teacher, and working with individuals or groups of students, these parents gained valuable skills and strategies for helping their children at home. Many of these parent-volunteers went on to become part of the Headstart staff, and a number of them went back to school to become teachers, effectively breaking the cycle of poverty for their families.
According to the Hawaii State School Readiness Assessment, about 50% of students enter kindergarten with no preschool experience. More often than not, these students are also considered economically disadvantaged, qualifying for free or reduced meals. Entering kindergarten lacking the skills of their classmates who have attended preschool, these students are not ready for first grade at the end of the school year, and often repeat kindergarten to hopefully strengthen their chances for success (but that is not guaranteed).
Today, 24 years after I wrote that letter, Hawaii is still one of 11 states with no universal preschool program, However, our Governor has created an Early Learning Council and has proposed funding for preschool beginning in school year 2014-2015. That is the year when the birthdate for entry into kindergarten changes, and several thousand junior kindergarteners will have to wait a year to enroll.
It is my hope that our Department and the State will allow schools some flexibility in developing preschool programs for their students and not rely solely on private preschools or providers. As the principal, I would like to work with our community to fund and implement a program at our school to ensure a smoother transition for those going from preschool to kindergarten. Because we are a military-impacted school, many of our families have a stay-at-home-parent, so a half-day program (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) might be preferable. I also hope the State will look at revenue sources to make universal preschool self-sufficient down the road. Georgia's system intrigues me because they use funds from a lottery to sustain their program for all four-year-olds. Hmm . . . gambling in Hawaii? I wonder if that would or could be considered.