KS Chief Executive Officer Jack Wong, former trustee Micah Kāne and Community and Government Relations Director Kau‘i Burgess (back row) were on hand when Gov. David Ige signed a bill for Act 257 designed to expand access to early learning. Photo courtesy of Gov. David Ige's office.
The recently enacted Act 257 will positively change the lives of Hawaiʻi’s keiki and their families.
The legislation is designed to expand access to early learning by providing $200 million for the creation of public pre-kindergarten facilities. The funds will be used for the construction of new preschool facilities as well as the renovation and expansion of existing schools across Hawaiʻi. This is the largest investment into public preschools in the state’s history, Gov. David Ige said during last month’s bill-signing ceremony.
“Early education is a foundational building block for a lifetime of learning,” said Dr. Waiʻaleʻale Sarsona, vice president of Hiʻialo at Kamehameha Schools. “Preschool helps keiki grow in every way – academically, emotionally, physically, and socially. In short, they are happier, healthier and gain profound advantages that last well into adulthood.”
Despite the importance of early learning in a child’s development, the state’s current education system lacks the capacity to serve all of Hawaiʻi’s keiki. The state needs an additional 26,437 preschool seats to meet existing demand, according to data from the Early Childhood Action Strategy and the Executive Office on Early Learning. Since the start of the pandemic, the problem has only intensified. Hawai‘i lost more than 3,600 early learning seats when six preschools and many more childcare providers permanently closed.
The funding from Act 257 will go toward the initial implementation of Act 46 (2020), which set a goal of providing access for all unserved three- and four-year-old keiki to a preschool program by 2032.
Kamehameha Schools and other community partners share and support the state’s vision. In March, Kamehameha Schools added 40 seats through our newest preschool at St. Ann Church in Heʻeia, Oʻahu. Nā Kula Kamaliʻi will double capacity at the site by opening two additional classrooms this August to meet the steady, high demand for early learning in Koʻolaupoko. This addition expands KS’ ability to serve more Native Hawaiian families through Hawaiian culture-based education and E Ola!.
According to Sarsona, the positive effects of early education extend beyond keiki to their ‘ohana and the broader community too. Classrooms are safe, nurturing places where parents trust their children are being cared for and educated while at work to support their families. If children are not in school, parents are forced to stay home from work or find alternative childcare.
Working families depend on the availability of affordable, quality childcare. Still, currently, Hawai‘i faces some of the highest costs in the nation to send keiki to early learning centers, according to the Hawaiʻi Early Childhood State Plan.
“Early education is an essential, basic service Hawai‘i families deserve and one that will help our state achieve a vibrant local economy and shared prosperity in the future,” said Sarsona.