Public and Private Schools in Hawaii in 2023

Hawaii has a single state-wide public school system. It has one centralized school board, located on Oahu, and governing the entire State of Hawaii all 295 public schools.  Funding for each school is determined by the Hawaii Department of Education.

Bringing Your Kids to Hawaii

Bringing your school-aged kids (keiki) to Hawaii to live might seem like a great idea €˜let them breathe the clean air and soak up the sunshine swim with the dolphins!’ Sure. They can do all that. But, they’ll still have to endure the school system. For mainland kids arriving in Hawaii for public or private school it’s usually traumatic.

I’ll catch flak for this but, speaking from the heart – I wouldn’t recommend that anyone bring their kids to Hawaii to live. I just wouldn’t. That’s me. I’ve considered at length whether I would want my daughter to grow up in Hawaii and attend Hawaii’s schools. I’ve decided no, definitely not. We have chosen to live in Thailand and send her to a private school here.

In Hawaii, homeschooling might seem like the best option. I do think Hawaii would be a great place for a child to grow up, I am just unsure about the school system.

Does that mean that all kids going to public schools in Hawaii grow up with problems? No. Personally I know a dozen kids or more that grew up fine, and are respectful of their parents, are hardworking and just all-around good kids. I know kids that went to Punahou and that went on to Yale, and UCLA Berkeley. They are great kids, as far as I can see.

I also know some kids that grew up like local hoodlums and are breaking into cars for a living.

It’s a tough call and I’d say that who your child befriends is probably the biggest predictor of whether or not he or she will have a childhood experience that is in-line with your expectations for your child. Problem is we rarely choose our kids’ friends right?

The Top 10 Public Elementary Schools in Hawaii in 2023:

According to US News:

  1. Momilani Elementary School
  2. Noelani Elementary School
  3. Waikiki Elementary School
  4. Laie Elementary School
  5. Ernest Bowen Desilva Elementary School
  6. Pauoa Elementary School
  7. Palisades Elementary School
  8. King Liholiho Elementary School
  9. Kaelepulu Elementary School
  10. Maemae Elementary School

The Top 10 Public High Schools on Oahu in 2023:

According to US News:

  1. President Theodore Roosevelt High School
  2. Henry J Kaiser High School
  3. Kalani High School
  4. Moanalua High School
  5. Kalaheo High School
  6. Mililani High School
  7. Pearl City High School
  8. President William Mckinley High School

Where your child goes to school is dictated by where you live, though you can apply for what’s called a “District Exception” if you would like your child to attend school in a district other than the one you live in.

I don’t think there are real problems with the teachers in Hawaii. I know they are trying very hard to raise the standards. I do know that there is a serious lack of facilities and funding for some schools.

I think a big part of the problem with Hawaii’s schools, isn’t the schools at all. It’s the social situation that kids find themselves in. There are plenty of kids that are coasting through life and not interested in school at all. Their parents aren’t that interested either they have a view of life that doesn’t’ coincide with my own of working hard and gaining something for yourself.

The Hawaii lifestyle is one of ease and no stress. Many kids are copying their parents in this regard. This sets up examples for your kids to see in school. I don’t know where they get it from, but there are some really hilarious kids. Pidgin’ the local dialect is really quite funny, and most kids want to speak it well and make everyone laugh too.

The kids that speak pidgin’ constantly, instead of proper English for the most part, are probably not the ones that are knocking themselves out to learn at school though.

The social situation for kids in Hawaii is opposite to what you as a parent probably want for your child. Though you might love the laid back atmosphere of Hawaii you’ll probably be fighting the influence it has over your children.

Hawaii Private Schools

Nearly 20% of school children in Hawaii attend one of the 94 private schools. These schools have, on average, better reputations than the public schools, but can be very costly.

The percentage of kids in private school taken in comparison with other states in the USA is the highest in the nation.

Some private schools focus on college-prep, so your child can get into a good university upon graduation from secondary school. Others focus on creativity and the artistic side of development while not neglecting traditional curricula.

Download the 2022 Private School Listing PDF

Our friends at the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) produce this excellent listing of 94 private schools. Download the PDF here.

Here is some information about select private schools and the stats come from the HAIS PDF:

Punahou School

Barack Obama graduated from this private school and became president. This is considered the ultimate private school in Hawaii. There are over 3,700 students running the entire age range from kindergarten to 12th grade. The focus of Punahou is on college preparation, and it is considered one of the best in the entire nation.

Punahou has an excellent athletic program. Facilities include a heated Olympic-size swimming pool and an 8-lane Mondo running track surface. Students can choose from 22 sports!

In addition to a stellar athletics program, students can study dance, drama, and music all nationally recognized programs. Other programs include jewelry, photographic darkroom facilities, and glass-blowing studio!

Cost per year for Punahou tuition in 2022 : $29,000

Iolani School


Iolani School is a private school with over 2,100 students from pre-school age to grade 12. Iolani School is affiliated with the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Iolani school is in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The school focuses on college prep as well as athletics. More than 2/3 of all attending students are part of an Iolani athletic team covering 32 competitive sports.

Cost per year for Iolani tuition in 2022: $28,000

A Sample of Christian Schools on Oahu

This is only a sample list. Please see the Private School Listing PDF download for full information.

School NameIslandStudentsSexGradesApprox TuitionTypeLast Update
Maryknoll SchoolOahu951Co-edK-12$20,000Roman Catholic2022
Sacred Hearts AcademyOahu628GirlsK-12$18,000Roman Catholic2022
Damien Memorial SchoolOahu595Co-ed6-12$14,000Roman Catholic2022
Seabury HallMaui503Co-ed5-12$23,000Episcopal2022
Kauai Christian AcademyKauai185Co-edPK3-12$7,000Christian2022
Makua Lani Christian AcademyBig Island379Co-edPK-12$10,000Christian2022

Other Private Hawaii Schools

This is only a sample list. Please see the Private School Listing PDF download for full information.

NameIslandStudentsSexGradesApprox TuitionLast Update
Honolulu Waldorf SchoolOahu181Co-edPK-8$17,0002022
Montessori Community SchoolOahu199Co-edPK-6$16,0002022
Punahou SchoolOahu3783Co-edK-12$28,9602022
ʻIolani SchoolOahu2151Co-edK-12$27,1752022
Carden Academy of MauiMaui184Co-edPK-8$13,0002022
Island SchoolKauai480Co-edPK-12$14,0002022
Hawaii Preparatory AcademyBig Island594Co-edK-12$27,0002022

List of Hawaii Universities

University of Hawaii

The University of Hawaii (UH) is a public university that offers bachelor, master, doctoral, and post-doc degrees.  It is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and consists of the following:

  • UH Manoa
    • I attended this campus part time while serving in the U.S. Air Force many years ago. It’s a lovely campus with a lot of trees for shade. Sometimes classes are held outside on the grass.
  • UH Hilo
  • UH West Oahu
  • UH Maui College

UH Community Colleges

  • Hawaii Community College
  • Honolulu Community College
  • Kapiolani Community College
  • Kauai Community College
  • Windward Community College

Hawaii Graduate Schools

  • John A. Burns School of Medicine
  • William S. Richardson School of Law

Private Hawaii Universities

(List subject to change)

  • Hawaii Pacific University (HPU)
  • Brigham Young University Hawaii (BYU Hawaii)
  • Chaminade University of Honolulu. Roman Catholic affiliation.
  • Argosy University
  • Hawaii Tokai International College (HTIC)
  • Honolulu University
  • The International College and Graduate School. Christian affiliation.
  • Remington College
  • Heald College Honolulu
  • TransPacific Hawaii College

It bears repeating (Ed: no, it doesn’t!) … I don’t think you should come to Hawaii with kids – unless you can afford to put them in a good private school where there is at least a modicum of control over them. If kids act up too much in a private school – they are terminated. In a public school – what are they going to do? Right, they live with it. That’s why the public schools are such a bad experience.

If you raised your kids in Hawaii’s schools and they were not born there – could you tell your story? Pop it in the comments! Mahalo!

Article originally written by Vern Lovic and any opinions (especially the one about bringing kids to Hawaii!) expressed are his alone