Hawaiʻi lawmakers consider establishing a pilot stipend program to retain child care workers
State lawmakers are considering several measures to improve early education in the islands. Two bills could help address an ongoing shortage of early educators.
When it comes to early education in the state, historically there have not been enough programs to meet demand from families. And the pandemic has worsened that shortage.
"We’re not seeing any additional child care be created at this time. We’ve only seen a loss of seats, we have not seen adding any seats. So it erodes the total number of child care space and availability. So the market is getting more rough for parents to find care, but the desire for care has not changed," said Kathleen Algire, the director of early education for the advocacy group Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network.
A contributing factor to this shortage is the lack of child care professionals.
Algire says child care is extremely labor-intensive, and the ratio of adults to children varies by age group and setting.
The state Department of Human Services licenses child care providers and has detailed administrative rules. For example, in a licensed preschool, there must be one staff member for eight 2-year-olds.
For a 3-year-old class, there can be one adult for 12 kids.
"Just to serve the children that need care, you’re going to need a lot of people in that workforce and labor is expensive. We haven’t done a great job though of actually making any kinds of investments in it either – at the state level, federal, county – we have not done that in a significant way. And so what we’ve seen over time is people leaving the workforce in early care and learning because it pays poverty-level wages," Algire told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
Algire says compensation is the biggest reason people leave early child care.
In the past two years, state legislators have passed bills to address the challenges surrounding early educators – including recruitment and retention.
One of them was Act 46 in 2020. It created goals to expand preschool access to all 3- and 4-year-olds by 2032.
Last year, lawmakers passed HB1362 which established a stipend program for University of Hawaiʻi students interested in becoming early childhood educators.
This year, several proposals aim to understand the shortage — and help retain workers.
Introduced by Senator Bennette Misalucha, SB2700 would update the state’s child care registry and require providers and educators to register with the state.
Misalucha says this is a small step toward meeting the goals of Act 46.
"We need to set a foundation, because how can we establish how to get there if we don’t even know where to start? So I think this bill sets us on that roadmap, so we would have the data we need and then this would allow us to plan ahead and plan for the future," Misalucha said.
Another bill, SB2701, would establish a pilot stipend program to help retain current caregivers and educators.
Misalucha says this would not only benefit educators but also collect essential information about compensation.
"This particular bill covers about 200 individuals. And I think with that data, we will be able to plan ahead, we can have a more informed policy decision regarding this very important workforce. You know, we keep talking about how important our keikis are, but this is the time that we should put our money where our mouth is," Misalucha told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.