A state Senate committee will discuss a proposal to improve pre-kindergarten education in the state, but the measure also includes a change to the age eligibility of incoming kindergartners.
House Bill 1362 proposes the creation of a stipend for qualified early childhood educators. The hope is that recent teaching graduates from the University of Hawaii will stay in Hawaii and help bolster the state’s pre-K education efforts.
But an amendment added last week by the Senate’s education committee would change the five-year-old eligibility date for incoming kindergartners from July 31 to December 31 of the school year.
That would result in a large influx of students entering kindergarten, particularly four-year-olds, starting in the fall of 2024.
Deborah Zysman is the executive director for the education advocacy group Hawaii Children’s Action Network Speaks.
She says her organization is in strong support of the stipend program but is confused with the recent amendment.
"Currently, children need to be five years old when they start kindergarten. We think that date is sound. It is developmentally appropriate for children to be about five years old when they start kindergarten," Zysman said. "It also aligns us up with almost every other state across the nation."
She said they're not sure where the amendment came from because they are not aware of any desire from the community.
"The proposal to move that date back so that children actually would be starting kindergarten when they were four years old--and they would turn five through the fall--we don’t feel it’s developmentally appropriate. We feel that children should be in high-quality preschools when they are four years old," she added.
Zysman says her organization strongly supports expanding and improving preschool education in the state.
If the change is passed into law, she estimates about 4,500 more children would enter kindergarten in 2024.
Hawaii Public Radio reached out to state Senator Michelle Kidani who chairs the education committee and introduced the amendment.
Kidani's office said she is working to strike the amendment with the Senate ways and means committee, which met Thursday to discuss HB 1362. She did not explain why the amendment was originally made.