As part of National Education Week 2014, children, families and community-based early learning providers gathered today at the State Capitol to rally for quality and improved access to early learning programs.
Executive Office on Early Learning Director GG Weisenfeld, who was joined by state legislators, preschoolers, community groups and business representatives, welcomed the crowd to the rally. The rally included a children's concert as well as information and hands-on activities for adults that demonstrate the level of quality that is infused in prekindergarten classes.
Representatives from the Department of Human Services' Preschool Open Doors program were on hand to distribute applications and answer questions. The program, which provides subsidies to eligible low- and moderate-income families that send their children to community-based prekindergarten programs to prepare them for kindergarten, was established by the Legislature last year as a vehicle for the state's school readiness program.
"We need people to know that this is not just daycare. This is quality early learning experiences for our children so they can be ready to succeed," said Christina Cox, president of KCAA Preschools of Hawaii. "Community-based preschools support working parents' need for full-day care for their children and are uniquely suited to provide both quality education and care in a nurturing and stimulating environment."
At the start of the rally, Director Weisenfeld read a special message from Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who was unable to attend. It stated, "Any vision for early learning for all four year olds in Hawaii must include you, educators who are already here -- who have long been working with children in the classroom to find what works best for the keiki in your community. Your teaching is not just daycare -- you provide some of the first and most crucial skills and learning experiences that make these children ready to succeed."
There are 17,000 four-year-old children in Hawaii. To prepare as many four year olds for kindergarten as possible, it is important to use and expand the already-existing, mixed-delivery system in our state.
Community-based early learning providers are an integral part of this mixed-delivery system. These providers have been the dominant delivery method for serving our four year olds.
This November, there will be a question on the ballot that will ask voters whether the state constitution should be changed to permit public monies to be used to fund private, community-based preschools. If voters approve, the state will be allowed to contract with private, community-based preschools, supporting existing services and even expanding them to meet the public need.
Gov. Abercrombie's proposal to increase the number of four-year-old children who can have prekindergarten experiences also includes funding for preschools on some Department of Education campuses and family-child interaction learning programs.
The Executive Office on Early Learning (EOEL) was established by Act 178 (passed as Senate Bill 2545) and signed into law by Gov. Abercrombie in June 2012. The creation of EOEL provides government-wide authority to guide the development of a comprehensive and integrated statewide early childhood development and learning system.