Hawaii’s minimum wage boosted to $15 an hour and our public schools restructured! Those are some of the key proposals from Governor David Ige’s 5th State of the State address.

The state wants to expand pre-kindergarten in the public school system and move 6th grade to middle schools. Currently, there are already 26 state-funded pre-k classrooms and about half of the elementary schools no longer have 6th grade. 

“I am proposing to the DOE that we look at our elementary schools in a whole different light,” said Governor Ige. 

Governor Ige says the state will need more than 300 public pre-k classrooms as part of a long term goal. For now, the state plans to transform 22 existing classrooms into pre-k classrooms to save money. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto says the cost will vary for each school depending on the existing spaces.

“The cost is primarily the cost of the teacher. The cost of having fencing around, a safe place for pre-k students to play outside, and also to make sure that we have a classroom that is outfitted with the curriculum that pre-k students need,” said Kishimoto. 

The state is asking for $14.3 million in the fiscal year 2020 and 2021 for renovations for pre-k classrooms statewide. 
The state is targeting schools not only with available space but also in areas where there’s a high demand. Education Committee Chair Michelle Kidani says it’s a great idea but has some concerns

“I understand there are 18 pre-k charter school classrooms that are losing federal funding but yet they were not on the list as the new 22 that are coming on board so we need to work together to make sure how we are going to resolve that issue, as there are so many dollars that are going to go around for that pre-school venture,” said Senator Kidani. 

The governor is also proposing a minimum wage increase, up to a dollar a year until it hits $15 an hour. The minimum wage now is $10.10.

“We are also looking a tax credit for small businesses. I’ve heard the concern for small businesses so I have structured a tax credit to try and help small businesses allow them to offset what the impact would be of the minimum wage increase,” said the Governor. 

Minority Leader Gene Ward wants some small businesses to be exempt from the wage increase.

“If they have fewer than 10 employees I say let them go on their own or have a training wage and other things because the notion of a living wage I think it’s almost an impossibility in the state of Hawaii where we have the highest cost of living,” said Representative Ward.