State finds possible workaround to ensure Hawaii preschool teachers get a raise

After lawmakers rejected a bill that would boost the wages of some underpaid preschool teachers by $3 an hour, the state may have come up with a workaround.
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:24 PM HST|Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 8:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After lawmakers rejected a bill that would boost the wages of some underpaid preschool teachers by $3 an hour, the state may have come up with a workaround to get those educators a raise.

The money would come from federal COVID grants the state was awarded during the pandemic.

Officials say the plan is to begin distrubuting those funds this summer.

Meanwhile, educators say that money can’t come soon enough.

For the majority of Hawaii’s preschool teachers, being in the classroom is a labor of love. That’s because low pay has made it nearly impossible to make a living.


Just ask Doreen Kodoni.

After operating Hilo Keiki Cares more than a decade, Kodani made the difficult decision to close her state-licensed preschool a couple years ago.

“They would tell me aunty I love you. Gosh, that touched my heart,” she said.

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

Her story’s not uncommon.

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

“If we really want to see this dream of universal access to early learning, we need to start with those educators and those folks in the provider settings that are doing the work,” said Keopu Reelitz, director of Early Learning and Health Policy for Hawaii Children’s Action Network.

That sentiment is what prompted a push to launch a pilot project that would provide teachers at all of Hawaii’s infant and toddler centers a $3 per hour raise.

It’s an idea that was well received by the Legislature but in end didn’t make the cut.

Now education advocates say they’re determined to find another way to provide teachers with needed financial support. “The fight is not over,” Reelitz said.

HNN Investigates confirmed the Department of Human Services is looking into using federal Childcare Supplemental Block grants to give preschool teachers a raise.

In a statement the agency said, “these block grant funds are intended to support an estimated 600+ licensed and registered family child care homes and centers statewide.”

“Personally I think this is a really good idea,” said Bob Peters, chair of Hawaii’s Early Learning Board.

He said wage supplements are having positive impacts in other states.

“Washington, D.C. is a good example. In North Carolina, their loss of employee rate dropped to 13% when it had previously been around 30%,” said Peters.

Advocates say overall, they’re pleased by the attention early childhood education received this legislative session.

While the wage bill was rejected, lawmakers did approve funding that would provide a stipend to UH students studying to be preschool teachers.

There was also an appropriation to help parents who need financial assistance to cover the cost of childcare.

Officials say those COVID grants all have to be spent by September 2024. That means to keep any kind of wage supplement program going beyond next year, the state would need to secure additional funding.