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West // West Oahu Coverstory
Christina O’Connor

Takumi Moves to require Grade K

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State Rep. Roy Takumi (Pearl City, Waipio and Pearl Harbor) recently introduced a bill that, if passed, would make kindergarten mandatory for all Hawaii children.

While 97 percent of Hawaii’s children already attend kindergarten, Takumi said that the bill aims to ensure that all children get started on equal footing. The state Department of Education reports that first-graders who do not attend kindergarten tend to be at a developmental disadvantage, both academically and socially.

“In essence, we do have a ‘mandatory’ kindergarten in concept, though not statutorily,” Takumi explained.

The measure, HB 1487, was prompted by other discussions involving launching a voluntary preschool program. “The logic is that if we have voluntary preschool, it makes sense to have a mandatory K-12 system. Otherwise, it is possible that a family could enroll their child in preschool and skip kindergarten altogether if it’s not mandatory,” he said.

The proposal follows a decision passed by the Legislature in 2012 that put a stricter age limit on kindergarten admissions. Effective as of the 2014-2015 school year, children will have to be age 5 by July 31 in order to attend kindergarten, and the junior kindergarten program has been repealed. As a result, thousands of families would have to put off their child’s education for another year — or pay for a private preschool.

To address these problems, the state is working to expand the Preschool Open Doors program, which provides subsidies for childcare and tuition for eligible families in the year before kindergarten.

Gov. Abercrombie, who has stated that early education is his “highest priority,” is advocating for the creation of preschool classrooms at a number of existing public elementary schools.

“We are planning on establishing a state preschool system that will be voluntary to attend,” Takumi explained. “Initially, it will be for a relatively small number of children, but as resources become available, we will expand the program (as has been done in 41 other states) to include more children.”

The ultimate goal, Takumi said, would be to have the system expand over time to include all 4-year-olds.

HB 1487 passed its first reading earlier this month and now has been referred to the House Education Committee. If the bill passes through the Senate, it would be effective as of July 1.

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