About the Author

Julie Kalakau

Julie Kalakau has worked in the field of early childhood education for 38 years in a variety of roles: teacher, child life specialist, trainer and director. Currently, she is the director at Sunshine School in Kailua. She has a passion for advocacy for the in the field and serves on different advocacy groups and boards.

Educators are leaving the profession at an alarming rate because they are underpaid and undervalued.

The workforce crisis in early childhood education is real and needs attention. As a preschool director, I know this firsthand.

When I post ads for child care positions, responses are few and far between. This should concern everyone in Hawaii.

When a position is not filled, the result is that classrooms will close. This is even though the demand for quality care is there. There are currently only enough regulated seats to serve around 55% of Hawaii’s 3- and 4-year-olds and less than 10% of our kids under 3.

We must start advancing solutions, like House Bill 547, that invest in the early childhood care and education workforce.

Early childhood educators are leaving the profession at an alarming rate because they are underpaid and feel undervalued.

Did you know that the average pay for an early childhood care and education professional in Hawaii is between $13 and $17 an hour? Center directors and other providers cannot afford to raise these wages without passing the cost on to families who also struggle to pay preschool tuition.

In addition to pay far below a living wage, early childhood care and education professionals are often not given their due respect. They are often called child care “workers,” which does not lend respect for the important work they do.

These workers are really educators and specialized professionals, who must have degrees in early childhood education and development, take continuing education classes, and meet experience requirements.

The low pay and lack of respect in early childhood education programs have not just driven educators to leave the field, it also discourages the next generation of professionals. Why would anyone want to get a degree, work full days with energetic little ones and do lesson plans in their free time when other jobs that do not require higher education and are less arduous pay more?

We do this work because we are called to do it. We have a passion for teaching and working with families.

But, it is increasingly difficult to continue on passion alone. Passion does not pay the bills.

Nurturing Environments

The hard-working professionals who care for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years old are an integral part of society. They support a large percentage of the workforce by ensuring parents can go to work knowing their children are safe in nurturing environments with professionals who are skilled, knowledgeable and educated in child development. When parents can go to work, our businesses and the larger economy can grow.

Early childhood care and education professionals’ contribution goes beyond enabling parents to work. Studies continue to show that early childhood years are the most important learning years. A person’s brain develops no more rapidly than in their first five years of life. So the professionals who educate and nurture our youngest keiki are setting them up for a lifetime of success.

The necessity to have a well-qualified, -compensated and -supported workforce has come into even sharper focus after three years of a pandemic. We are seeing more behavioral issues, struggles with social emotional skills, and lack of self-regulation skills, which may be attributed to the years of isolation during the pandemic.

Research to help our educators change course post-pandemic is limited since they are still in their infancy and will take years to complete. For now, we do our best to meet children where they are and provide care, support, and education.

The pressure of the everyday responsibility of highly specialized and demanding work in addition to pandemic stressors over the last three years and into the foreseeable future contributes to unprecedented burnout for our sector.

It is increasingly difficult to continue on passion alone.

Between the low pay, lack of respect and high burnout, it’s no wonder many in the early childhood education field are leaving or considering leaving the field. It is just too much for too little. Expectations of schools, parents and leaders continue to increase while compensation and resources remain the same.

This is a crisis that the community must pay attention to. If we lose talented educators, who will take their place?

During the pandemic, we were valued and respected for the work we do. We were a source of consistency for children and families. We helped essential workers get to their jobs.

We continued to work during the scariest time in our collective history. We were seen as vital to the economy.

Has that all been forgotten?

It is time to pay attention to this crisis and work together to find solutions to support a profession that is vital to the betterment of communities and the economy.

If not now, then who will care for the children when we cannot attract or keep our workforce? Who will support the working families who need quality care for their children?

The issues facing this field are vast and headed for collapse. The time is now to look at these issues and support current bills, like HB 547, moving through the Legislature that address early childhood education and its workforce so we can continue to serve children and families.

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About the Author

Julie Kalakau

Julie Kalakau has worked in the field of early childhood education for 38 years in a variety of roles: teacher, child life specialist, trainer and director. Currently, she is the director at Sunshine School in Kailua. She has a passion for advocacy for the in the field and serves on different advocacy groups and boards.


Latest Comments (0)

Continued- Just moved back this year and my youngest will be five in late summer and still can’t go to K and I will have to pay for PreK. She goes to a headstart now and we love them! But as a single mom, headstart sucks for me! I can’t work any extra hours at another job. Start time is after my campus starts, and pick up is at the same time. There are no early drop off or after school programs. I am fighting a battle for funds from my husband for basic needs for my kids. Gas alone is always close to $400 a month. Therapy for myself and the kids are several appts a week. And I am having to consider giving up the job I love with my students because I need more hours and funds. I only have an Associates and still making payments on that. I don’t know how those with a bachelor can make payments and live in Hawaii AND deal with the lack of respect. The gaps in kid’s education will continue grow without staff. there will always be a large quantity of kids with gaps, until there are actual full day PreK, PreK3 at the schools.Asking parents to pay for PreK is shameful. Asking EEd teachers do it with little pay is shameful. Those in charge-pay cut not a raise! ❤️ the 💡 moment!!

LoVEStheKDZlightBULBmomments · 10 months ago

Julie! -first, you are awesome and loved this! I am now on the road to being a single mom, with a few special kids of my own. But I work at a school in the intervention department, and this applies to us as well. I love working with the kids, filling in the gaps of their reading, writing and math skills. Seeing their confidence finally break free and start to actual like learning. They finally believe that they CAN learn. We can only work 19 hours a week, and we can’t work at any other campuses during the remaining hours. Most of us are only paid for the hours we work with the students. The hours that we basically volunteer to clean classrooms, prep plans and talk to peers- can easily push us to hit 30 a week. Middle school attitude/behavior post covid is terrifying at times. Some kids make me fear what will come when they are the adults in charge. We do what we can but we don’t get the backup from parents either. We spend our own money and try to make an impact. Living on the mainland in my late 20s and early 30s. My son did preK3. It was dual language, teaching in Spanish on Tuesday and Thursday. Immersive language learning. In PreK,K,1st he was dual language. Moved back-

LoVEStheKDZlightBULBmomments · 10 months ago

Nice article Julie, fully support you! All researchers agree that psychomotor development occurs between 0-3 years old. some argue 0- 5 years old. And then there is vestibular development. This age is so critical, society needs to flip the pay scale. University is the lowest paid and early childhood is the highest paid. Why? As kids become adults, the learning should be more autodidactic, less time needed from instructors. Youtube video learning galore..... already happening. Try my idea for 40 years and see what type of society you have, we'd surely be a lot more stable.

BrianCanevari · 10 months ago

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