The Power of Preschool — A Special Publication by The Good Beginnings Alliance
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Parents to State: ‘Step Up and Do Something’
Families struggle with preschool costs, transition to kindergarten
By Shannon Tangonan
Kaui Pratt, a single mom, says it costs about $8,000 to send her son Kaulana to preschool.
Photo: Diana Kim
Kaui Pratt is facing an early education dilemma. Her options are to send her late-born son, Kaulana, through the last year of state-funded junior kindergarten program or spend roughly $8,000 for another year of preschool.
“Next year will be the last year of junior kindergarten. He qualifies, but I fear he’s not ready. It’s really kindergarten,” says Pratt, a single parent and executive assistant at INPEACE, the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture. Kaulana, who turns 4 on Dec. 26, is currently attending a Kamehameha Schools preschool for 4-year-olds, which costs Pratt a minimal amount. The Kamehameha Schools preschool system only serves 3- and 4-year-olds.
“Do I set him up for failure or give him another year in preschool?” says Pratt, a second-year law student. “There is no clear line from preschool to kindergarten.”
Pratt is among many parents struggling with early education issues and advocating a state-funded preschool system that will allow children a smooth transition to kindergarten.
“The cost of sending a child to preschool is expensive,” Pratt says.
Every year, People Attentive to Children, or PATCH, is flooded with more than a thousand applications for state-funded subsidies to send children to preschool. And that is without any advertising. Fewer than half receive assistance because funding is limited.
“Preschool on average in Hawaii is comparable to the cost of going to UH (University of Hawaii)-Manoa,” says Katy Chen, executive director of the not-for-profit PATCH. “You can understand why it is out of [families’] means.”
A state-funded preschool system is “absolutely necessary,” Chen says, noting Hawaii is one of only 11 states without a pre-K supported system.
The state should redirect the funds that supported its junior kindergarten program to a more focused pre-K system, Chen says. The junior kindergarten program, which allows late-born children to attend public school early, will end in 2014.
“We would have applauded [junior kindergarten] if it were implemented correctly” across the board, Chen says. When her son was a kindergartner, he had classmates who were junior kindergartners. “It was no different” for the younger pupils, she says.
Like many Hawaii parents, Kaui Pratt struggles financially to provide a prekindergarten education for her son.
Photo: Diana Kim
Leigh Bulesco, an administrative assistant who works in Waikiki, is thankful her son Ryan will be among the last batch of youngsters eligible to attend junior kindergarten. Sending him to Seagull Schools has been a financial challenge.
“If you’re not super poor you don’t get assistance,” Bulesco says. And when two of her sons were attending preschool at the same time – at $800 a month each – it hurt. “It depleted our savings. We had to borrow from our 401k.”
Bulesco knew that she could not teach her sons all the skills they would need to enter kindergarten. In the first week of attending preschool, her sons were already learning to follow directions, stand in line and fall into routines.
“I really trust the preschool teachers more than myself. I don’t think I could have done as good a job if I stayed at home,” Bulesco admits. “I cannot imagine sending my sons straight from home to kindergarten.”
Bulesco says it’s time for the government “to step up and do something.”
The Statewide Early Learning Plan
Affordable – free for low income families; sliding scale fee for middle income.
Convenient for families – coordinated with the Department of Education calendar: school-day hours, school-year calendar.
Coordinated administration – through the Governor’s Executive Office of Early Learning working with related state departments of education (DOE), human services (DHS), health (DOH), labor and industrial relations (DLIR), and the University of Hawaii System.
Public/Private partnerships – locations and programs a mix of public elementary schools (facility only; facility and program) and private providers (program).
[Editor’s note: As of this publication’s deadline in November 2012, these are the key elements of the Governor’s Early Learning Plan, which is being drafted and includes a non-mandatory clause for families].
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