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Hawaii Poised to Add Pre-K to State's Offerings

Hawaii is poised to add some preschool for 4-year-olds to its educational offerings, pending legislative funding.

The initiative, a key component of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's Democratic administration, will include 32 classrooms on 30 elementary school campuses, with seats for a total of 640 children, a statement from the governor's office said. He requested $4.5 million for the program through a supplemental budget request.

Enrollment will be based on income and age. Children who are 4 years old by July 31.

"Our future plans for Hawaii's comprehensive early-learning system involve both public and private preschools," Abercrombie said in a statement. "We have been waiting for this opportunity."

Hawaii is one of only 11 states currently without some form of state-funded pre-K, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The program is being modeled after classrooms established with federal Race to the Top money now operating on the island of Hawaii, the governor's statement said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also working on the issue of mandatory kindergarten. (Currently, kindergarten is not mandatory in Hawaii.) House Bill 1487 would require all children who are 5 on or before July 31 to attend kindergarten, although 97 percent of 5-year-olds already do so voluntarily, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported. 

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia require either full-day or half-day programs, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Children's Defense Fund. Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania do not madate it, although school districts may offer it.

"It seems appropriate to discuss this in light of the efforts on early education," said Roy M. Takumi, a Democrat who serves as the chair of the House's education committee, in the Civil Beat. "By making it mandatory, it indicates that as a state we believe that K-12 should be mandatory and that whatever preschool system emerges will be voluntary."

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