In 2023, Alekah will be ready for preschool. But will a preschool be available and ready for her? Research tells us that early childhood education, such as preschool programs, are critical for brain development. Yet in Hawai‘i, we have left that important task to others and only for families who can afford private preschool tuition. It doesn’t have to be that way. We must create a universal, statewide, high-quality public preschool system that will give every child in Hawai‘i a head start on learning.
That’s why I am proposing to the Department of Education that we restructure schools presently composed of kindergarten through grade 6 to pre-K through grade 5.Grade 6 in those schools would then become a part of our middle schools, where the added classes could be more easily and financially accommodated. Presently, about half of our elementary schools still include sixth-grade classes—most are located on the neighbor islands, where preschools, both private and public, are lacking. Of all our initiatives, I believe this one will make the greatest difference in preparing our children for the future and in creating a 21st century workforce. Moreover, this is an initiative we can and should begin now. My thanks to Lauren Moriguchi, director of the Executive Office on Early Learning, and DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto for spearheading this initiative.
And so in 2033 when Alekah Garcia is a freshman in high school, she’ll be well prepared to take advantage of the state’s Early College and Hawai‘i Promise programs—a choice made possible because of the partnerships we’ve established with the DOE, UH and its community colleges. That’s why we’re working hard to ensure that Alekah will have good teachers throughout her education. That’s why we need to expand our pool of teachers in some of our most difficult-to-staff schools. And we’re doing so in partnership with UH, HSTA and the DOE, and with education advocates like state Sen. Michele Kidani and Rep. Justin Woodson.