More To Be Done To Meet Needs Of Hawaii’s Youngest - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Megan McCorriston

Megan McCorriston is CEO of Seagull Schools and a member of the Commit to Keiki Steering Committee.

Alice Luck

Alice Luck is president and CEO of Kauai Planning and Action Alliance and a member of the Commit to Keiki Steering Committee.

As we prepare for Hawaii’s primary election, many of us are reflecting on what we learned about our gubernatorial candidates and their priorities, based on the recent televised debates.

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For us at Commit to Keiki, a nonpartisan initiative that seeks to underscore the importance of investing in Hawaii’s youngest keiki and families, we were pleased to hear the candidates address the importance of child care and preschool. Their collective support speaks volumes.

Nationally, Hawaii ranks seventh from the bottom in its investment in children, running counter to our local values.

The pandemic has only made the issue worse, causing significant impacts on family stability and early developmental delays. In effect, kids are falling through the cracks because families are falling apart.

According to recent data, Hawaii today can only serve about 25% of keiki ages birth to 5 in child care and preschool, which has a direct impact on parents and caregivers’ ability to work.

Moreover, more than 3,600 child care spaces for keiki ages birth to 5 have been lost as a result of the pandemic.

An image from the Commit to Keiki website
An image from the Commit to Keiki website, where statements from gubernatorial candidates Josh Green and Vicky Cayetano are also posted. Screenshot/2022

Not only are families struggling with finding child care, but mental health needs and family violence are on the rise.

Since the passage of Act 178 in 2012, which established the Executive Office on Early Learning, we’ve seen only small, incremental increases in public investments in our youngest keiki. Ten years later, the EOEL public-pre-k program can only support 4% of 4-year-olds, for example.

This year, the Legislature did make the big investment via House Bill 2000, which allocates a historic $200 million for the construction of 200 preschool classrooms by 2023.

This is an important and critical first step, but the reality is, our state still lacks the funding for workforce recruitment, training and retention that will be required to fill the new classrooms.

Additionally, families who do not meet the eligibility requirements for financial assistance can’t afford most community-based preschool programs due to the increasingly high tuition rates required to cover operating costs.

The time is now for a large infusion of state investments to support early learning programs for keiki from birth to age 5.

Candidate Engagement

Commit to Keiki is focused on engaging with gubernatorial candidates to educate and encourage them to commit to our three priorities, including 1) child care and early learning, 2) family violence prevention, and 3) early childhood mental health.

Since March, we’ve been hosting a series of virtual talk story forums with the various democratic and republican candidates to talk about these early childhood topics and what needs to be done moving forward.

It was very encouraging to hear the gubernatorial candidates recognize the importance of universal child care and preschool during the most recent debates.

We anticipate the next governor’s budget will reflect these commitments. We also know that seats alone, don’t support healthy early development.

We hope candidates keep their commitments to family violence prevention and early childhood mental health. All three priority areas are absolutely critical for early brain development.

Hawaii today can only serve about 25% of keiki in child care and preschool.

When a young child is raised in a nurturing home and has access to quality early learning opportunities, she/he has a much greater opportunity to thrive. All of our keiki deserve these opportunities and investing early makes the most sense because early childhood is when brain development is happening the fastest. It’s the most opportune time to get it right.

It is critical that our next governor supports early childhood development by making greater investments in programs that give our keiki the best chance for a better future and help Hawaii families thrive. Our budgets should reflect our values, prioritizing our keiki and recognizing that they are the future of this beautiful state.

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About the Authors

Megan McCorriston

Megan McCorriston is CEO of Seagull Schools and a member of the Commit to Keiki Steering Committee.

Alice Luck

Alice Luck is president and CEO of Kauai Planning and Action Alliance and a member of the Commit to Keiki Steering Committee.

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