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Could a worker subsidy program entice early childhood educators?

Deanna DeMaglie for NPR

For Christen Zulli, finding child care turned into disappointment after disappointment.

"You don't want to jump through a whole lot of hoops but we will," Zulli said. "Whether that's) filling out paperwork if we have to move our children into the best schools possible or schools that we feel that are most aligned (with our values)."

At one point, Zulli said, she and her husband were driving 40 minutes one way to take their children to a private preschool. For a while, Zulli had to bounce her kids from unlicensed caretakers to private pre-K all in an attempt to find the right fit.

With few available spots in quality early childhood care programs, it becomes a competition.

"When you're desperate, it really feels like that's your only choice anyway," Zulli said.

Childhood care experts say the field is hampered by low wages. Typically some staff may make around $13 to $17 an hour, well below a living wage in Hawaiʻi, which presents itself as one of the reasons for caregiver educator shortages.

Bills addressing the specific needs of caretakers, educators and parents are hitting the state Legislature this session.

Rep. Amy Perruso of Oʻahu is part of the Keiki Caucus. At a press conference earlier this month, she spoke on one bill that may tackle this issue.

"The next bill within our Keiki Caucus package is designed to provide a workforce wage supplement for child care workers as we recognize that we have a shortage in our early child care workforce, and so we want to make sure that we are subsidizing and supporting the development of that workforce," she said.

House Bill 547 would create an infant and childcare worker subsidy pilot program under the state Department of Human Services. It would bring childcare worker pay to a minimum of $16 an hour.

The bill passed its introduction and first reading on Monday.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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