Alliance: Say ‘Yes on 4’

They don’t nap in kindergarten anymore.

“It’s not play in the sandbox,” said Deborah Zysman. “It’s reading, it’s math. Kindergarten is tough, kids have to be ready.”

Zysman is vice president and executive director with Good Beginnings Alliance, based in Honolulu, which recently launched the “Yes on 4” campaign. Their goal is to let voters know why they should support early education initiatives and specifically, why they should vote yes on Nov. 4 on ballot question 4, which would allow the state to expand preschool access to more of Hawaii’s keiki.

In a $3 million pilot program started this school year, the state is funding 18 preschools, including one on Kauai, for about 420 children. But Zysman notes there are more than 17,000 4-year-olds in the state eligible for preschool. And preschool is critical, she said, in the development of children. Studies, she said, show 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time they are 5 years old, and kids who attend preschool do better academically later on.

“Needless to say, we are behind the curve and as a result, our keiki and our residents are missing out on millions of dollars, our tax dollars, in federal funds dedicated to early childhood education that is being syphoned off to other states,” she said during a visit to The Garden Island newspaper office.

Passage of the proposal would mean the state would have the option to contract with participating preschools to offer additional preschool slots for parents to send their 4-year-olds. It would not be a requirement. 

“None of those things are in place. This is to keep options open and be able to have the conversation,” Zysman said.

The proposal doesn’t include anything about funds to pay for public preschool. For that, Zysman and Good Beginnings Alliance will turn to the Legislature. Even if the voters say no to the proposal on Nov. 4, the alliance will still ask the Legislature for money to fund preschool, but it will have to be done through the Department of Education. There would be no public/private partnership.

“It’s limiting,” she said.

She believes the ballot question will pass, but if the measure fails, Zysman said the state could end up paying $125 million to develop preschool within DOE, plus another $200 million for facilities. By going with a public/private partnership, using facilities already in existence, it could cost around $50 million.

“We’d be building off infrastructure that is already there,” she said.

Good Beginnings Alliance wants to see 85 percent of keiki in some kind of early learning or preschool access before starting kindergarten. Right now, it’s about 60 percent. 

Hawaii requires keiki who are 5 years old by July 31 to be enrolled in kindergarten. Kids need to be prepared for it, Zysman said.

They should be ready to follow basic instructions, hold a pencil, identify some letters — but only one in five Hawaii kindergarten classes has a majority of their students entering school “with essential reading and math skills.”

Folks who can afford it will usually send their children to preschool, she said. Those who can’t afford it, usually won’t, and that could mean their children start kindergarten behind.

 “Start in the deficit, they kind of never catch up,” she said.

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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