Gov. Neil Abercrombie today signed Senate Bill 1093, a significant first step to transform early education in Hawaii and ensure that all island keiki have access to preschool.
"In my 2013 State of the State, I described any failure to address early learning development as one of our state's greatest unfunded liabilities; this bill breaks from the status quo and provides our first down payment on ensuring Hawaii's keiki are prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn," Gov. Abercrombie said. "No other piece of legislation this year was more important. I firmly believe that giving keiki a strong early childhood education foundation is the best, most effective way to empower their success in life."
Gov. Abercrombie also announced the appointment of GG Weisenfed, Ed.D, as director of the Executive Office on Early Learning (EOEL). Weisenfeld will take over for Terry Lock, the state's former early childhood coordinator who the Governor appointed as director when the office was first established. Lock has accepted a position with the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Education, where she will focus on the professional and leadership development of current and future early childhood educators.
"Terry joined my administration in 2011 and has been a steadfast leader for our youngest citizens," the Governor said. "She and her team have made significant progress and established a strong foundation for early learning and development in Hawaii, including completing the strategic plan "Taking Action for Hawaii's Children.' As we enter this next phase of implementation, it means a great deal to me that Terry recommended GG to lead our efforts forward."
A key component of the Governor's legislative package, SB1093 (enacted as Act 169) establishes the Preschool Open Doors Program as the statewide school readiness program administered by the state Department of Human Services. The new voluntary program will provide access to school readiness services that address children's physical, cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional development. The program will serve 4-year-old children, with priority extended to underserved or at-risk keiki, and those who are not eligible to attend public school kindergarten in the school year they turn 5 because their birth date occurs after the kindergarten eligibility date.
The bill also requires each provider to conduct school readiness assessments, give priority to children from low- and moderate-income families, and prepare children for school through either English or Hawaiian language.
The measure includes appropriations of $720,000 in fiscal year 2014 and $440,000 in fiscal year 2015 to fund three temporary positions and contract services, as well as an additional $6 million for program subsidies in fiscal year 2015.
About the New Director
Weisenfeld was most recently the director of the Hawaii P-3 Initiative at the University of Hawaii, where she aligned policies and programs between the early childhood community and the state Department of Education through researching and leading the development of the Hawaii's Early Learning and Development Standards (HELDS). As an early childhood research specialist at the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, Weisenfeld facilitated the creation of a research-based design and implementation plan for a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for early childhood programs in Hawaii.
Weisenfeld has established herself as a champion of early learning, publishing numerous works on the issue. She honed her skills in New York's early education system and has served in positions ranging from early childhood classroom teacher, to director of childhood services (including Head Start and Early Head Start), to assistant professor of education.