Editorial: Early education needs to expand
Young children who get an early start to their education fare better in schooling, careers … in life generally.
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Young children who get an early start to their education fare better in schooling, careers … in life generally. On one level it seems state officials here know this but simply have not made strides quickly enough to put Hawaii on a better course.
That is the most clear-cut takeaway from the latest Kids Count Data Book, an annual report on the well-being of America’s children that came out Monday. It’s issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has done work in Hawaii through grants for youth initiatives.
However, it’s best known for its yearly report card measuring the status of children according to metrics in four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Combining all the data points, Hawaii ranks 24th, which seems a fair-to-middling placing and not too alarming.
But especially in the education category, the numbers look worse than they did in the previous report, giving Hawaii a rank of 40 nationally. The trend lines are discouraging, too, with the early-education element showing particular slippage. A decade ago, 44% of Hawaii’s children ages 3 and 4 were not in school; this year, it’s grown year by year to 54%.
The general status in the islands is buoyed somewhat by higher rankings in health (10th) and family and community (15th). The impact of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act could be credited with the state’s already low 4% of uninsured children dropping to 2%; long-term, Hawaii also has its own Prepaid Health Care Act to thank for its overall wellness statistics.
In the “family and community” measures, Hawaii’s proportion of children living in single-parent families has ticked up 2%, at 32% — still below the national average of 34% but not an improvement.
Nearly full employment in the state has given a boost to some families. The last report showed 30% of children having parents who lack secure employment; that’s now down to 26%. Still, money is very tight, given that 36% of them live in households where housing costs exceed 30% of the total income.
And what these families often can’t afford is private preschool — that is, if it’s even offered in their communities. The remoteness of some rural areas on Oahu and on the neighbor islands particularly makes this option impractical, as well as unaffordable. This is why the state has set a goal of universal preschool, working to make it available to more children. It needs to work faster.
The concept has been discussed for the past decade: Under the administration of former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a proposal to fund preschool by issuing vouchers for children to attend existing schools was proposed but ultimately rejected, partly because it involved funneling taxpayer funds to private schools that in many cases were religiously affiliated.
The more recent push has been to add preschool classes to public schools, a program developed by the state Executive Office on Early Learning and involving Hawaii’s Department of Education.
It was a major theme in Gov. David Ige’s State of the State address in January, in which he would restructure school grades to accommodate pre-kindergarten classrooms.
Unfortunately, this past legislative session saw more action in the turf battle over which agency should hold the reins, than in the securing of available funding for a significant expansion. The money for 18 classrooms in charter schools was sustained and 10 additional classes were funded.
That was at least an incremental step, but not the level of commitment Hawaii needs to show. Its young keiki will fall further behind with each year that the state shortchanges the next generation.