Invest Now in Hawaii’s Child Care Workforce

Our children may not remember their first daycare or their first preschool teacher, but we parents do. They will not remember how that first teacher helped them develop, grow and learn. They’ll never know how hard this teacher struggled to make ends meet — working multiple jobs, applying for public assistance or more.

To be honest, we parents might not know either, unless we’re prepared to face the hard truth: our children’s first educators are some of the most underrated professionals in the world. Hawaii and the United States.

In 2020, the median salary for a female educator in Hawaii was just under $26,000 per year. These low salaries contribute to an alarming reality: nationwide, approximately 1 in 3 female educators face food insecurity according to a 2020 study.

This means that after a long day of feeding, teaching and caring for our children, almost a third of workers go home not knowing if they will be able to put food on their table in the near future.

As a community and a state, we must change this truth.

With the Legislative Assembly recognizing September as Child Care Provider Appreciation Month and dedicating $200 million to expanding pre-kindergarten facilities earlier this year, now is the time for a change. this truth.

We must have a well-valued and well-supported early childhood care and education workforce ready to fill the 200 classrooms that are expected to be built with these funds.

After all, the most important parts of an early childhood care and education classroom aren’t the tables, chairs, or centers – it’s the trained professionals and young keiki they educate.

Keopu Reelitz's eldest son with his very first preschool teacher, Leigh Oshirio, who helped him transition into early childhood care and education outside the home.  This teacher worked with her son through speech delays and more while making him feel loved, nurtured and included.
The author’s eldest son with his very first preschool teacher, Leigh Oshiro, who helped him transition into early childhood care and education outside the home. Courtesy of Keopu Reelitz

In 2020, there were over 100,000 children ages zero to 5 in Hawaii. We had enough educators to look after only 54,500 4-year-olds according to minimum health and safety requirements. It’s even lower – 34,000 – if we use quality standards set by national organizations like the National Early Childhood Education Research Institute, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation. The numbers drop even further if we seek to educate and care for the entire continuum of early childhood care, from birth through kindergarten.

‘Difficult task’

Here’s another hard truth we have to face: Even if we had enough physical space for our youngest keiki, we still need to more than double the number of qualified early childhood care and education professionals.

Not only do we face the daunting task of doubling or tripling the workforce in early childhood care and education, but we must also do so while rebuilding and retaining our existing workforce.

From 2018 to 2020, Hawaii lost about 850 of its 4,260 child care workers. This is a reduction of nearly 20% of the workforce. The pandemic has only reduced this problem to nothing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics still reports that nationally, more than 10% of child care workers have left the industry and not returned since the pandemic began.

This disastrous picture need not be our reality. There’s no better time for a change than now during Child Care Provider Appreciation Month. Together with our leaders, we can show our appreciation for these unsung heroes by investing in them.

We can start by devoting public funds to increasing the salaries of educators. The Department of Human Services has used federal pandemic relief funds to stabilize the sector, including allowing centers and family daycares to give workers bonuses. We can continue to provide these wage supplements with state money even when federal funding runs out.

Hawaii has reached critical consensus at a critical time.

Additionally, we can dedicate state funds to help individual workers and regulated center and home providers move forward. We can fund tuition, which serves both current and future child care workers.

Our State can provide technical and financial assistance to providers to obtain accreditation. We can then provide financial and other incentives for both individual and provider-level progress. These and other investments will increase the value of a profession that has been sold short for too long.

Hawaii has reached critical consensus at a critical time. It is widely accepted that all children and all families deserve access to early childhood care and education programs.

As we strive to achieve this vision, we must support the people who are at the heart of it, the child care providers. Our children may never remember them, but their impact will last forever.

When we as parents, community members, and leaders invest in child care workers today, we are investing in our children, our early childhood care and education system, and our state. for generations to come.

Michael A. Bynum