Known for crystal clear aquamarine oceans and swaying palm trees, Hawaii is the embodiment of paradise. It is hard for the many tourists who pass through to imagine the extent of poverty in the “Aloha State” and the inability of many families to afford preschool education. The Huffington Post reports that Hawaii is one of only 11 states that do not fund preschool for 4-year-olds, a fact that the state is working hard to change.
Although Hawaii is known for its carefree and content residents, poverty is a serious issue. Many children are living well below the poverty level, to the tune of 17 percent, and the cost of living is high. Just recently, CNBC reported that Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the United States. In Honolulu, the average cost for a home is more than $700,000, and average monthly energy costs top $300. Some families have resorted to living in tent villages, set up on beaches, in order to make ends meet. It is not unusual for adults to have two or more jobs. Without state funding for preschool, many 4-year-olds simply do not get the chance to go at all, depriving at-risk children of early education that can ultimately help them succeed in the long run.
Hawaii’s Governor, Neil Abercrombie, recognizes the value of early education. This year, he signed a bill that enabled 900 more children to attend preschool. He stated, “No other piece of legislation this year was more important.” Several nonprofit groups have also devoted themselves to the plight. One such group, the Good Beginnings Alliance, has spent countless hours on community awareness and policy change. They conducted a recent poll that suggested that 82 percent of Hawaiian voting residents are in support of utilizing state funds to subsidize preschool. One of the group’s campaigns, called Be My Voice Hawai’i, urges residents to contact their legislators, while calling on education experts and cold hard statistics to help advocate for their cause. The group reports, “We spend almost $40,000 on prisoners, just over $11,000 on children in school and much less for children under the age of five.”
The need for accessible preschool education has even become a key agenda item for the Hawaii Business Roundtable Incorporated. This group of CEOs has considered state-funded preschool as important as its other key issues: economic climate and health care.
Reaching the Most Vulnerable
The Partners in Development Foundation has found a way to reach Hawaii’s most at-risk preschool-aged children. To assist homeless and impoverished families, the foundation operates various outreach groups including the Ka Pa‘alana Traveling Preschool and Homeless Family Education Program. In Oahu, Ka Pa’alana brings preschool to homeless shelters and beach parks twice weekly and offers other important services like dental and hygienic needs. They also offer a math and science program, called ‘Ike No‘eau, so that homeless preschool children are not deprived of the value of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. For children being cared for by their grandparents, the Tūtū and Me Traveling Preschool helps to serve older caregivers of newborns and young children. This hands-on program serves Native Hawaiian children on the Big Island, Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Molokai.
Last June, Ka Pa’alana led 35 homeless preschool children to graduation at Keaau Beach Park, located on Oahu’s Waianae Coast. These are children who would not normally have opportunities to attend preschool; half of Hawaii’s preschool-aged children have been unable to access preschool education over the last few years. One parent, Sarah Kanahu, was extremely grateful to have the opportunity for her 4-year-old daughter, stating, “Socially, she has grown so much. They blossomed her into this social little butterfly.” Thanks to this important outreach program, 35 children will have an early advantage when starting kindergarten, and in time, more Hawaiian children will hopefully have access to the early literacy and math skills needed to succeed.
If you enjoyed reading about Hawaii’s initiative to offer preschool to all children, also read about another education trend, how schools are battling dropout rates.