More preschools, child care needed
Access to quality child care enables working parents to give children a strong start toward success in school and in life.
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Access to quality child care enables working parents to give children a strong start toward success in school and in life. In the big-picture analysis, child care centers making positive impacts on cognitive and social development strengthen our economy. Yet in Hawaii, the demand for quality, affordable child care continues to far outstrip supply.
Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit, estimates that nearly half of Hawaii’s children under age 6 lack access to quality care. A study released by the Virginia-based group this week tags the Aloha State with a shortfall of more than 30,000 licensed child care slots.
The study echoes points made in a recent report produced by the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family in partnership with Hawaii Children’s Action Network. Both probes underscore the need to expand child care and preschool programs — rightly noting, for example, that a priority should be set to create more child-care options for children in underserved areas. Leeward Oahu alone has a shortfall of more than 2,000 slots for the under-age-6 bracket, according to Child Care Aware.
The federal gauge for affordable child care is pegged at 7 percent of family income. In high-cost-of-living Hawaii, however, the average cost for a single child is 13 percent of median family income. A full-time spot at a child care center here costs an average of $9,500 a year, with infant care typically topping $13,000. (To put that price tag in perspective, consider that next year’s state-resident tuition at University of Hawaii-Manoa is $11,088.)
State lawmakers put in place an indirect assist this year by targeting funds to ease Hawaii’s affordable housing crisis — a hefty
$200 million is slated to be added to the state Rental Housing Revolving Fund. More needs to be done in the way of direct help.
Of Hawaii’s 35,662 slots in licensed child care programs, only 11 percent are available to infants and toddlers, according to Child Care Aware America. That’s due, in part, to staff retention challenges. While almost three-quarters of our center-based assistant teachers hold early childhood education credentials or a college degree, early childhood education ranks among the nation’s lowest-paid professions.
In Hawaii, the median annual salary for child care workers hovers at $19,550, and, rises to $34,360 for preschool teachers. State and industry leaders should pursue strategies to increase wages and benefits, and strengthen career paths for professionals playing a crucial role in early childhood development. Also, more should be done to expand Hawaii’s meager public pre-kindergarten opportunities.
Three years ago, then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie led an unsuccessful ballot initiative to establish universal preschool here, sensibly arguing that a combination of public preschools, private preschools and state-funded slots in private schools could serve all of the state’s 17,200 4-year-olds. The Hawaii State Teachers Association opposed the proposal — warning it could lead to a private voucher program that weakens public schools — and urged lawmakers to offer preschool only at public schools with public school teachers.
Limited subsidy help is now available for underserved and at-risk keiki through various programs. Among them is Hawaii’s Preschool Open Doors, which helps cover tuition for more than 1,700 children for the year before kindergarten. Families can use the program’s funds at any state-
licensed preschool. So much more could be accomplished by working in tandem with Hawaii’s large network of private schools. State leaders should forge more public-
Children and family figure prominently in just about any inventory of Hawaii priorities. For the sake of helping local families thrive, which, in turn, creates a brighter future for the islands, the state must commit to strides aimed at providing all with access to quality child care and preschool experiences.