The state is finding a way to get Hawaii’s preschool teachers a raise

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – After lawmakers rejected a bill that would have raised the wages of some preschool teachers to $3 an hour, the state may have found a way to raise those teachers’ wages.

The money will come from federal COVID grants awarded to the state during the pandemic.

Officials say that the plan will start distributing these funds this summer.

Meanwhile, teachers say the money can’t come soon enough.

For most Hawaii preschool teachers, being in the classroom is a labor of love. This is because low wages have made it almost impossible to make ends meet.

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Just ask Doreen Codoni.

After operating Hilo Keiki Cares for more than a decade, Kodani decided to close its state-licensed preschool several years ago.

“They used to tell me that aunty, I love you. God, it touched my heart,” she said.

But in the end, she says, she was working 13-hour days and taking care of six children for less than $15 an hour. That’s about $2.50 an hour. to one child.

His story is not unusual.

From 2018 to 2020, Hawaii lost 850 providers. That’s 20% of its childcare workforce.

“If we really want to see this dream of universal access to early learning, we have to start with those educators and the people who work in the provider settings,” said Keopu Reelitz, director of early learning and health policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network.

That sentiment prompted her to launch a pilot project that would pay teachers at all Hawaii infant and toddler centers $3 an hour.

It’s an idea that was well-received by the legislature, but ultimately didn’t make the cut.

Now, education advocates say they are determined to find another way to provide teachers with the financial support they need. “The fight is not over,” Relitz said.

An HNN investigation has confirmed that the Department of Human Services is trying to use federal Child Care Supplemental Block Grants to raise the wages of preschool teachers.

“These block grant funds are intended to support approximately 600+ licensed and registered family child care homes and centers,” the agency said in a statement.

“Personally, I think it’s a really good idea,” said Bob Peters, president of the Hawaii Early Learning Council.

He said wage increases in other states are having a positive effect.

“Washington, DC is a good example. In North Carolina, their unemployment rate has dropped to 13%, when it used to be about 30%,” Peters said.

Advocates say, overall, they’re pleased with the focus on early education this legislative session.

While the salary bill was defeated, lawmakers approved funding that would provide scholarships to UH students studying to be early childhood educators.

Funding has also been allocated to help parents who need financial assistance to cover childcare costs.

Officials say these COVID grants must all be spent by September 2024. This means that in order for any supplemental wage program to continue next year, the state must provide additional funding.

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