By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU — Hawaii education and early learning officials are emphasizing an upcoming change in the age children can enter kindergarten as an opportunity for late-born students to receive an extra year to prepare for school.
An extra year of preschool will help children meet the increasing rigors of kindergarten, said GG Weisenfeld, director of the Executive Office on Early Learning. “So that when they start kindergarten, they have a great experience,” she said.
Starting next school year, students must be at least 5 on July 31 to enter kindergarten the same year. Previously, children could enter kindergarten if they turned 5 by December 31.
The Senate and House committees on education held a briefing Wednesday on what’s being done to prepare families and preschools for the change.
Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi estimates about 5,000 late-born children won’t be entering kindergarten next school year.
“This is a big step, a big transition,” said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chair of the Senate Education Committee. It’s a change that will align Hawaii with the vast majority of states.
For some, the change is cause for concern.
“The impact is going to be disruptive. One year we’re going to have huge preschool class and will loose 40 percent of kindergarten classes statewide,” said Bob Hill, principal at Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary.
He believes some kindergarten teachers will be laid off then will be asked to come back after the adjustment is made.
“We’ll have to shift. Next year wouldn’t be a great year to be a new teacher because there won’t be a need for as many kindergarten teachers,” he said.
Michelle Barber, principal at Ha‘aheo Elementary School, says the change could be beneficial to students.
“Very often what we see is that some of the 4-year-olds are not quite ready and some of them are. You never know,” she said. “I expect students will be more prepared,” she said.
While some parents might be scrambling to figure out what to do with children they anticipated would be able to enter kindergarten, Weisenfeld’s office is busy making sure families are aware of the change — including distributing posters in various languages and adding a message to pay stubs of state employees. She said her office is also making sure preschools are ready for a spike in enrollment and have the appropriate curriculum in place to educate the students who will wait a year before heading to kindergarten.
Hawaii is one of 10 states with no state-funded pre-kindergarten program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. It’s a situation that has many affected families worried about how to afford another year of preschool.
The Department of Human Services is looking at the impact on low-income families and is exploring ways to reduce the co-pay tiers for the state’s Preschool Open Doors program, said Pankaj Bhanot, division administrator of the department’s benefit, employment and support services division.
The program received a more than $7 million funding package during the last legislative session, which can provide subsidies for about 1,200 children.
Tribune-Herald staff writer Megan Moseley contributed to this report.
Executive Office on Early Learning http://earlylearning.hawaii.gov.