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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

Tuition grant to aid families in crisis

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Part of a $1 million grant could help Hawai'i preschoolers and private school students stay on campus even after a financial crisis hits their families.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the state's financial downturn, the Hawai'i Community Foundation will give $600,000 in tuition assistance to families that have suffered job layoffs and other financial difficulties.

The grant is intended to help create a stable and secure environment for the children and avoid the additional family stress that comes with having children change schools in the middle of the academic year, said Kelvin Taketa, president and CEO of the Hawai'i Community Foundation.

One in every five children in Hawai'i attends private school, Taketa said. "It's not as if those kids are all coming from wealthy families," Taketa said. "They're coming from families who for whatever reason have decided to put their kids in a private school for the best interest of the children."

About $300,000 will go to clusters of preschools statewide to help families unable to meet tuition requirements from now through the summer. This grant will be used as tuition subsidies to help nearly 10 percent of the total enrollment in the organizations being paid for.

"It's our belief after having lots of conversations with individuals and organizations throughout the state that a lot of the effects of Sept. 11 will be felt after the holidays," Taketa said. "The tourism industry is still suffering. People try to live within their means."

One of the first luxuries to go is preschool, especially if a parent is recently unemployed, Taketa said. "It's important to stabilize the environment for those kids," he said. "Also, if those kids are in a good preschool environment, it frees up the parent to look for work."

Another $300,000 will go to tuition assistance for private school students from kindergarten to 12th grade. This grant will focus on helping the smaller private schools, including parochial schools, that are serving lower-income populations and whose families are affected by the loss of household income.

The Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools and Hawai'i Catholic Schools will jointly administer the tuition grant. It's one of the first collaborations for the two groups.

While private and parochial schools have seen only a slight drop in enrollment so far, many families have contacted the school to let them know they won't be able to come back next year because of financial difficulties, said Carmen Himenes, superintendent of Catholic schools.

"This definitely is a crisis," Himenes said. "This grant could stop the flood of something that could be very serious and detrimental for our community. It's a wonderful gift."

Because all private and parochial schools already give scholarships and financial assistance each year, there wasn't a big well to draw from for a post-Sept. 11 crisis, Himenes said.

To distribute the tuition assistance, school heads will identify families that have already approached them on delaying payments or have stated that they need to take their children out of school.

A committee put together by HAIS and Hawai'i Catholic Schools will decide how to distribute the funds.

"Families go through an emotional process to decide how to make ends meet," Taketa said. "By the time they come to the school, it's to pull the kid out. We don't want families to have to go through that."

Established in 1916, the Hawai'i Community Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable services and grant-making institution. HCF also serves as an information resource on community issues and trends.

Preschools receiving the grant are: Hawai'i Conference of the United Church of Christ, Family Services Center, KCAA Preschools of Hawai'i, Kama'aina Care Inc., Rainbow School, Seagull Schools and Wai'anae Coast Early Childhood Services.

A list of K-12 private school recipients is not available yet because the HAIS/Catholic School collaborative will distribute the money to families through individual schools.

HCF also has given $150,000 to the Hawai'i Prime Care Association to support the medicine bank, $50,000 to Aloha Medical Mission and $200,000 to several organizations to provide a variety of services to immigrants, who represent a high percentage of the people who lost jobs after Sept. 11.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.