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 Dec. 31.
The state Senate and state 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, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. It's a change that will align Hawaii with the vast majority of states.
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 also is 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.