HONOLULU — Hawaii libraries could accommodate early learning classrooms under a state legislative proposal to expand childcare services, officials have said.
The Legislature is expected to consider a proposal to build 100 early learning classrooms each year over a 10-year period to serve children ages 3 to 4, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.
The proposal is part of a joint-legislative package unveiled by Democratic Gov. David Ige and House and Senate leaders that to provide affordable childcare for young families.
Democratic state Rep. Justin Woodson, chair of the House Committee on Higher and Lower Education, announced the proposal last month.
A 2017 study by the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family found state demand for childcare greatly exceeded the supply. Although 64% of children need care because their parents work, providers regulated by the Department of Human Services can only take 25% of that group.
The Hawaii State Public Library System operates 51 branches with an annual budget of about $40 million.
Democratic Rep. Sylvia Luke, the House finance committee chair, believes state libraries are a good option for locating some proposed classrooms.
“This is going to be a model for the rest of the nation because libraries nowadays are seen as something that is being phased out,” Luke said. “Libraries provide an important function. Can you imagine if we open preschools, but quarter off a secure area at every library and introduce three-year-olds to a surrounding that already has books?”
Luke said state Librarian Stacey Aldrich was willing to include an early learning setting at the main state library in downtown Honolulu, where renovations are under consideration.
Library patrons who are mentally ill or homeless present safety issues to be addressed while planning childcare classrooms in libraries, Aldrich said in 2018.
Aldrich could not immediately be reached for comment.