Here’s an education proposal that we hadn’t heard from Gov. Neil Abercrombie: He wants to build a Hawaiian language university.

“We have an opportunity to organize a Hawaiian language university-within-a-university as a next step,” Abercrombie said in his Jan. 24 State of the State address. “Language is a key element in ensuring that the Hawaiian culture remains strong and perseveres into the future for the benefit of all.”

The measure that would make it happen is Senate Bill 1070, which proposes a Hawaiian language university and college be established at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. But a Hawaiian language college already exists there — and UH Hilo’s chancellor says he was never consulted about the plans.

Since 1997, UH Hilo has been home to the Ka Haka Ula O Keelikolani College of Hawaiian Language. It was named in honor of a 19th century high chiefess known for her strong advocacy of Hawaiian language and culture, according to the college’s website. The college grants bachelor’s, masters and doctoral degrees in Hawaiian language and indigenous language revitalization.

UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney said he was not consulted about the measure before the Legislature and is not certain how it would change the existing college and its programs — but he looks forward to learning more.

“Legislators have ideas of their own,” he said. “They don’t have to consult with us first.”

According to the proposal, the Hawaiian language university would operate year round and be administered using the Hawaiian language. Classes in any discipline — including math and science — would be taught in Hawaiian. But changing the language in which a subject is taught often alters the entire learning process.

A pilot program could begin as soon as July 1, involving grade school courses taught in the Hawaiian language medium. The techniques would be practiced in laboratory schools.

Part of the pilot program would include publicly funded preschools for children 40 months or older.

The bill has passed its first Senate reading and been referred to the Senate’s committees on Hawaiian affairs, education and ways and means.

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