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Hawaii Homeless Preschool Graduates 35 Children

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

HONOLULU (AP) â¿¿ Homeless and living on a Hawaii beach, Sarah Kanuha never imagined being able to provide preschool for her youngest daughter.

But on Thursday, the mother of five watched 4-year-old Aulii Malia Kanuha receive a preschool diploma. She was one of 35 students to graduate from Ka Paalana Traveling Preschool, which educates about 700 homeless children each year.

Kanuha found out about the program last year while living at Keaau Beach Park, on Oahu's Waianae Coast. The family has since moved to a shelter.

"Socially, she has grown so much," she said. "They blossomed her into this social little butterfly."

Kanuha's oldest child, now 18, received free preschool in Michigan. But when the family moved back to the islands, her three other children never got any preschool. Hawaii, one of the country's most expensive places to live, is one of 10 states with no state-funded pre-kindergarten program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The Kanuha family is one of many in the country trying to raise children in the face of joblessness and homelessness.

An annual survey released this week says 16.4 million children in the United States â¿¿ nearly one-fourth â¿¿ were living in poverty in 2011, more than a year after the Great Recession officially ended. That's an increase of 3 million children since 2005, according to the survey from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report showed that nearly half of Hawaii's children didn't attend preschool from 2009 to 2011.

Hawaii's governor this week signed a bill that expands the state's existing Preschool Open Doors program to fund subsidies for 900 children. The more than $7 million package is seen as a step toward eventually providing state-funded public preschool, but is less than half of what Gov. Neil Abercrombie originally proposed. Thousands of kids will lose services when the state's junior kindergarten program for late-born 4-year-olds expires in mid-2015.

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