Experts: Subsidizing preschool teacher pay is outside the box, but it’s worked elsewhere

An alarming number of preschool teachers are calling it quits, saying they’re unable to make a living on what they’re paid.
Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 4:26 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 18, 2023 at 8:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An alarming number of preschool teachers are calling it quits, saying they’re unable to make a living on what they’re paid.

Now lawmakers are debating whether to give some of those educators a $3 an hour raise with taxpayer funds.

But is it enough?

Sumner La Croix, senior researcher at University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization, said it’s an idea worth experimenting with given the importance of early childhood care not just to families, but the overall economy.

State education officials say a shortage of qualified preschool teachers is making the child care crisis even worse.

“The average hourly wage is between 13 and $17 an hour, which we know is unlivable here in Hawaii,” said Early Learning Board Chair Bob Peters.

Between 2018 and 2020, Hawaii lost 850 providers or about 20% of the childcare workforce.

That’s prompted lawmakers to consider using taxpayer money to give some underpaid educators a raise.

Through a pilot project funded at $6.4 million, teachers at Hawaii’s infant and toddler centers (about 550 in all) would receive an additional $3 an hour.

That equates to an extra $5,800 a year over the next two years.

“I think a pilot program is a great idea here,” said La Croix. “Particularly in a period where the state has some extra resources.”

The researcher says potential gains created by a wage boost would benefit more than just teachers.

“They go to parents who will find a better supply of preschools for their kids. This will enable them to work more. And for their kids to acquire really, really important skills down the road,” La Croix said.

He adds a raise alone likely won’t be enough to entice someone to want to become a preschool teacher.

“Because the pay is low, if somebody needs a four-year degree to get in, it’s not clear an extra $3 is going to be bringing them there,” said La Croix.

“I think to look at a wage subsidy program as a policy tool that is going to be the sole policy tool necessary to spur individuals to enter this particular field, that’s wrong. We really need to look at a complete policy package here.”

Similar policies have already been instituted in Washington, DC, Tennessee and North Carolina.

A spokesperson for Hawaii’s Children’s Action Network said in a statement:

“We know these kinds of initiatives work in other states, and the goal of the pilot is to see if it will work here.”

The bill continues to make it’s way through the Legislature.

Both the House and Senate have to agree on a final version before it’s passed.