Prekindergarten is opening for 4-year-olds this fall at M.C. Perry Primary School on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan — the first in what officials hope will be universal pre-K for military children attending Department of Defense schools.
Students who turn 4 on or before Sept. 1 are eligible, subject to the existing eligibility and enrollment policies at Department of Defense Education Activity schools.
To date, 46 students are registered for pre-K at Iwakuni, and officials estimate that total enrollment could reach around 95 to 100 students, said DoDEA spokesman Will Griffin.
This will be a test run of sorts for DoDEA’s plan to bring pre-K to an estimated 6,000 eligible students across the 60 military communities served by DoDEA schools. Officials continue to plan and analyze the resources and facilities to determine what’s needed to start the pre-k programs, but all is contingent on funding.
Defense officials have asked for $90.4 million for a full-day program for all eligible 4-year-old children at DoDEA schools, according to budget documents. The defense policy and funding bills are making their way through the legislative process now.
If the funding is approved, DoDEA will start phasing in the program during school year 2024-2025. Schools in the first phase would have appropriate facilities already available; those in the second phase would require minor facility adjustments, such as bathrooms and playgrounds, according to an earlier DoDEA announcement. Those in the last phase would need more extensive modifications or construction to increase classrooms.
Officials have said the programs would be implemented over a five-year-period, but the analysis is ongoing.
“It would be premature to announce a date for full implementation until the analysis is complete and the full scope of requirements” is known, Griffin said. That could include significant renovation or construction of facilities at some locations.
Defense school officials are using funds from their fiscal 2023 budget for the early implementation at MC Perry, Griffin said.
“Early implementation in Iwakuni provides DoDEA with the opportunity to test and validate procedures and plans developed for the later system-wide rollout of universal pre-kindergarten,” Griffin said. The existing classrooms and facilities at MC Perry required minimal changes to meet specific requirements, he said.
Supporters of universal pre-K contend that earlier, high-quality education can make a positive difference in a child’s future. Some states have pre-kindergarten programs, but it’s a patchwork of different programs and eligibility.
A full-day program for 4-year-olds would also help address the critical shortage of child care at many installations, advocates have said.
Separately, President Joe Biden’s administration has proposed funding for a federal-state partnership to provide free, universal preschool for all American children.
Parents at MCAS Iwakuni who want to register their 4-year-olds can visit https://dodeasis.myfollett.com/aspen/logon.do. That log-in page says the system will be unavailable through July 3 as officials prepare for the school year.
According to the school’s Facebook page, the pre-K school day will run from 7:55 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. weekdays except Tuesday, when it will end at 1:15 p.m.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.