Invest In Hawaii’s Child Care Workforce Now - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Keopu Reelitz

Keopu Reelitz is the director of early learning and health policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network and a mother of three.

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

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To be honest, we parents may not know this either unless we’re willing to face the harsh truth: Our children’s earliest educators are some of the most undervalued professionals in Hawaii and the U.S.

In 2020, the median salary for a child care worker in Hawaii was just shy of $26,000 a year. These low wages contribute to an alarming reality: Nationwide, approximately 1 in 3 child care workers faced food insecurity according to a 2020 study.

That means that after a long day of nurturing, teaching and caring for our children, nearly a third of workers go home unsure if they will be able to put food on their tables in the near future.

We as a community and a state must change this truth.

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

We must have a well-valued and well-supported early childhood care and education workforce prepared to fill the 200 classrooms estimated to be built with those monies.

After all, the most important pieces of an early childhood care and education classroom are not the tables, chairs or centers — it’s the qualified professionals and young keiki they nurture.

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

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

‘Daunting Task’

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

We not only face the daunting task of increasing the early childhood care and education workforce two- or three-fold, we also have to do this while rebuilding and retaining our existing workforce.

From 2018 to 2020, Hawaii lost approximately 850 of its 4,260 child care workers. That’s a nearly 20% reduction in the workforce. The pandemic has only stripped this problem threadbare. The Bureau of Labor Statistics still reports that nationally more than 10% of child care workers have left the sector and not returned since the pandemic began.

This dire picture does not need to be our reality. There is no better time to change than right now during Child Care Provider Appreciation Month. We along with our leaders can show our appreciation for these unsung heroes by investing in them.

We can start by dedicating state funds to increase child care workers’ wages. The Department of Human Services used federal pandemic relief funds to stabilize the sector, including allowing centers and family child care homes to give workers bonuses. We can continue to provide these wage supplements with state monies even when federal funding runs dry.

Hawaii has reached a critical consensus at a critical juncture.

Additionally, we can dedicate state dollars to support both individual workers and center- and home-based regulated providers to advance themselves. We can fund tuition stipends, which serve both current and future child care workers.

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

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

As we work to reach this vision, we must support the people at its heart, child care providers. Our kids 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.

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About the Author

Keopu Reelitz

Keopu Reelitz is the director of early learning and health policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network and a mother of three.

Latest Comments (0)

Did you know that the state requires preschool teachers to obtain a degree or pass a CDA test in order to be qualified as a preschool teacher and or an aide? On top of that we are required to complete so many continuing education training hours every year to stay qualified. If the preschool is accredited teachers also need to meet those educational requirements that normal means we all have degrees. I am a preschool teacher at a licensed non-profit school for over 10 years. The truth is my pay is so low that a high school graduate straight out of school working at Target gets paid more than I do. I am not over exaggerating either. Before I had my second child I was forced to work 2 jobs to make ends meet. Now that I have 2 kids I am unable to work 2 jobs making it more difficult to make ends meet in Hawaii. The worst part is Hawaii does not recognize preschool teachers as educators but we are labled as care givers. The pay is so low that myself as well as many other colleagues are being forced to abandon our careers that we got degrees in to pursue other jobs that will pay more. If Hawaii does not do something soon we will continue to lose more preschool teachers.

808Lola · 1 year ago

Child care workers should be paid a lot more than they are now. Unfortunately, however, society doesn't deem them to be a priority.

sleepingdog · 1 year ago

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