To Linda Chong, enrolling her daughter Diana in kindergarten next year had the potential to be life changing. She would finally have enough time to get a full-time job, earn some income and get off of food stamps.

But in March, Chong, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Waianae, found out she will have to wait an extra year. Diana was born in December 2009 and won’t turn five until after the upcoming school year is underway, making her ineligible for kindergarten under new rules that go into effect in 2014. For the Chong family, the change means another year without all-day school, reduced-price breakfast and lunch, the after-school A-Plus program and, of course, full-time employment.

And they are not alone. Diana is one of 5,000 or so children in Hawaii who will be affected by the state’s decision to tighten the kindergarten admissions age requirement.

Junior kindergarten, which serves late-born 4-year-olds, is slated for elimination at the start of the next school year, as a result of a law passed by the 2012 Legislature.

From now on, children must turn five by July 31 — not December 31 — the year they start kindergarten.

The law that eliminated junior kindergarten, Act 178, was seen as legislation that would spur the development of a public preschool program. Lawmakers behind the 2012 act also stressed that junior kindergarten, which was launched in 2006, failed to provide curriculum that was tailored to the early education needs of late-born kindergartners.

Some legislators, including Sen. Sam Slom, lament the use of a birthday cutoff as a one-size-fits-all approach to students, but early education experts point to research that underscores the developmental differences of so-called “gap group” children who aren’t five by the time they enter kindergarten.

“It’s not an end of junior kindergarten, but really a change to kindergarten’s entry age,” said Executive Office on Early Learning Executive Director GG Weisenfeld, noting that the Legislature got rid of junior kindergarten on the assumption that it would be replaced by a high-quality early-learning system for those late-born children

But the program’s elimination is leaving parents like Chong scrambling in their search for a solution.

It also has state officials bracing themselves for ripple effects from the change. For one, schools receive funding per student. The change means that there will be a loss of about $30 million for public schools in Hawaii because there will be fewer enrolled students.

That per-student money, the Senate’s Education Committee Chair Jill Tokuda said, won’t follow those 5,000 children unless lawmakers set aside more funding for early education next session.

Tokuda said she’s working with DOE officials to prepare for what she called the “j-k tsunami”: next year’s exodus of 5,000 or so children, followed by an influx the following year of an extra large cohort of kindergartners. But while the so-called tsunami could displace many kindergarten teachers, Tokuda insisted they won’t lose their jobs. One possible solution, she says, is adding positions at the preschool level in the DOE’s special education program.

Tokuda, Weisenfeld and experts in the nonprofit sector are also working with preschool providers to ensure they’re prepared to serve the advanced learning needs of the “junior kindergartners.”

Meanwhile, early education advocates fear that many of those 5,000 or so families aren’t even aware that the state is getting rid of the junior kindergarten option.

For the past few months, the Executive Office on Early Learning and other governmental and nonprofit agencies have been working to make sure parents, providers and K-12 schools are prepared. They’ve designed a poster and FAQ sheets that are being disseminated throughout the state.

When Chong found out about the change, she was “full of shock.”

“I was really looking forward to her going to school,” she said. “We are really struggling now. I can’t even imagine a year from now — it’s going to be a whole lot worse.”

Chong’s boyfriend — Diana’s father — pays the bills, but he only earns between $25,000 and $35,000 a year as an assistant manager in Honolulu, where he lives.

Diana is currently enrolled at Ark of Safety, a preschool in Waianae, thanks to a Race to the Top grant administered by the Preschool Open Doors program that was earmarked for families in several high-poverty areas. The grant covers up to $702 in tuition per month and up to $125 for the preschool registration fee, but Diana’s father is left paying the rest, including $150 for the rest of the registration fee, $100 in school supplies, more than $40 for uniforms and the costs of providing daily home-made lunches.

Moreover, preschool only lasts half a day and it doesn’t provide any after-school option, leaving Chong little flexibility as she searches for a job.

And whether Chong will get that grant again next year remains to be seen. She most likely has to reapply for Preschool Open Doors — a small program housed under the state Department of Human Services that provides preschool subsidies to low-income families — but she’s worried about whether she’ll get tuition subsidies for a second year.

This past session lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1093, which in its original version aimed to implement a “School Readiness” program that “would more effectively provide a developmentally appropriate experience to prepare children physically, cognitively, linguistically, socially, and emotionally prior to beginning the public education provided by the department of education” for those late-born children. It would have operated under the Executive Office on Early Learning.

But the final version passed by the 2013 Legislature set aside just $6 million for the state to expand the Preschool Open Doors program under the Department of Human Services.

Tokuda says the $6 million would support only late-born children who live at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, which in a family of four is about $54,000. That would mean only a third of the 5,000 children would be served by the current funding, she said.

Tokuda added that she and other stakeholders are planning on asking for another $7 million next session to help fund the Preschool Open Doors program.

She and other lawmakers are also aiming to secure money for a full-scale, state-funded preschool program for all of the state’s 18,000 4-year-olds. (A measure to do so failed to pass during the past session.) The Legislature did approve the constitutional amendment bill, which means that voters will be asked to decide on next year’s ballot whether the state can use public money for private preschool providers.

Hawaii is one of just 11 states without a publicly funded preschool program. About 42 percent of the state’s children enter kindergarten without having previously attended any preschool.

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