K-12 public schools in Hawaii enroll almost 180,000 students, with 42% in poverty, 10% learning English, 81% minorities, and annual expenditures of a little over $2 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
Hawaii is one of only five states in which no case challenging the state's education finance system has ever been filed.
“The State shall provide for the establishment, support and control of a statewide system of public schools free from sectarian control, a state university, public libraries and such other educational institutions as may be deemed desirable, including physical facilities therefore…proceeds of special purpose revenue bonds…may be appropriated to finance or assist…non-profit corporations that provide early childhood education and care facilities.” Hawaii Const. art. 10, § 1.
Although Hawaii does not have a state funded pre-K program that meets the criteria established by NIEER, several initiatives providing early learning services receive funding from the state.
Established in the early 1980s, the Preschool Open Doors Project gives low-income parents of 4-year-old children, and a limited number of 3-year-old children, money to purchase preschool in childcare facilities.
In 2002, Hawaii began supporting construction of preschool facilities at public school sites through the Pre-Plus Program. While seventeen Pre-Plus facilities have been constructed since the program’s inception, there is currently no funding available for further construction. The Pre-Plus Program does not directly fund educational services for children.
In 2008, the Hawaii legislature passed a bill establishing the Keiki First Steps Program for children from birth to age 5, with priority to at-risk children. Although the program is not a pre-K equivalent, it provides a variety of interactive learning experiences for eligible children.
Preschool education is also available to four-year-olds with a disability through Special Education Preschool, a half-day program intended to improve the school readiness of 4-year-olds with learning disabilities.
Additionally, the state Department of Education is currently piloting preschool programs at two elementary schools. These programs do not have an income requirement and eligibility is determined through a lottery. Four-year-old students would attend a preschool classroom in the same school where they will enroll in kindergarten.