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Governor signs scaled-down preschool funding bill

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    Preschoolers from Seagull Schools joined Gov. Neil Abercrombie at a press conference Monday where he signed a school readiness bill into law that will help subsidize the cost of preschool for families. Also attending, from left, were state Rep. Takashi Ohno, Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, Sen. Jill Tokuda, Rep. Mark Hashem, Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, and Seagull Schools Executive Director Chuck Larson. (Nanea Kalani/

The state will help pay for about 1,000 children to attend preschool in 2014 under legislation Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law this morning establishing a statewide school readiness program.

Senate Bill 1093 will expand the existing Preschool Open Doors program under the state Department of Human Services with an additional $6 million for subsidies to low-income families and underserved or at-risk keiki.

“It’s a start. That’s all it is, is a start,” Abercrombie said at a news conference at Washington Place. “For the first time, the state will be codifying into law a commitment to preparing young children for success in school and in life.

The bill also requires providers to conduct school-readiness assessments and prepare children for school through either English or Hawaiian language.

Abercrombie’s original early-education plan would have served most of the 5,100 so-called late-borns who would have attended junior kindergarten at public schools next year. Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, students will need to be at least 5 years old by July 31 to enroll in public school kindergarten.

The state’s intent was to phase out junior kindergarten — launched in 2006 for late-born 4-year-olds — while rolling out a plan for publicly funded universal preschool. Hawaii is one of 11 states without state-funded preschool.

Abercrombie last year established the Executive Office on Early Learning to lead the effort in hopes of having a program in place for the 2014-15 school year.

But lawmakers this session scaled down or deferred the governor’s early-education initiatives. They did, however, agree to place a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot asking voters whether public money can be spent on private early-education programs.

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