We need to fix the leaking bucket of child care workers before we talk more about the teacher pipeline.
A friend of mine worked at a Honolulu preschool for a few years and loved it — until she needed a second job to make ends meet. She ditched her dreams of running her own early childhood education center and went into real estate.
This scenario isn’t uncommon, especially in Hawaii where preschool teachers, on average, make between $13 and $17 an hour — about half the state’s living wage. I recently saw a job posting at a Honolulu preschool where the salary started at $17 an hour, or $35,360 a year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roofers, funeral attendants and farm workers earn more.
The wages can be even lower for those working at infant and toddler centers (for children 3 years and under). And now, not surprisingly, Hawaii is suffering from an exodus of child care workers. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, from 2018 to 2020, Hawaii lost 20% of its child care workforce.
Then the pandemic hit.
Even more professionals in the early child care and education sector — both in Hawaii and across the country — left their jobs. Many haven’t returned, forcing preschools and other child care centers to operate at a reduced capacity because of staffing shortages.
Already, there’s not enough regulated capacity to fulfill Hawaii’s child care needs. According to the University of Hawaii Center on the Family, there’s only enough regulated capacity for 10% of Hawaii’s kids under 3 years old.
While the state has committed $200 million to the construction, expansion or renovation of pre-kindergarten facilities across the state, it doesn’t solve the problem of retaining qualified child care workers.
“We have a ton of attention on expansion, which is great, but what I’m trying to get folks to realize is that there’s lots of talk about the pipeline,” says Keopu Reelitz, director of Early Learning and Health Policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network.
“It’s great to have a solid pipeline, but what use is it if it’s pouring into a leaking bucket? We need to fix that leaking bucket.”
The mother of three spent most of Wednesday at the Hawaii State Capitol, talking with senators about House Bill 547, her 1-year-old son in tow. The bill would help with this problem, boosting pay for child care workers in infant and toddler centers — raising hourly pay by $3 across the board — and hopefully improve retention in the field.
In order for it to work, the Hawaii Department of Human Services would need to pilot a program to provide wage supplements to subsidies to early childhood care and education professionals in infant and toddler centers, like Keiki o Ka Aina and the infant rooms of Seagull Schools.
It would be a two-year program — costing $4 million per year — that, hopefully, would eventually expand to include preschools too.
The bill is scheduled to be heard Monday.
A similar law was passed in Washington, D.C., last spring. The Pay Equity Fund taxes D.C.’s highest earners and sends annual bonus payments of up to $14,000 to teachers of children between 0 and 5 years in preschools and daycares.
North Carolina lawmakers are seeking $300 million in extra state subsidies to supplement teacher salaries; daycare owners say they’re losing staff to fast food restaurants and other retailers that pay better with less responsibility.
In testimony supporting HB 547, Reelitz noted that early childhood care and education professionals help infants and toddlers build skills “that lay the foundation for lifelong education–building foundations in social-emotional skills, math, motor skills and literacy.”
“In addition to helping develop the next generations of curious and engaged citizens, infant and toddler child care professionals enable parents, caregivers and other family members to go to work,” she says. “They are the workforce behind so many other workforces.”
Isn’t that well worth $13 an hour?