Hawaii lawmakers debate child care and early learning goals

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers seeking to increase affordable child care in the state face a debate over the qualifications for providers.

House and Senate leaders have made child care part of a joint legislative package negotiated with Democratic Gov. David Ige, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

A divide is emerging between those who want flexibility in qualifying child care or early learning teachers and those who say instructors must be well trained in early childhood education.

Teacher qualifications impact the level of care and learning that could be provided in an expanded system.

A 2017 study by the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family found the demand for child care in the state greatly exceeded supply.

One of the major initiatives of the legislative package is a Senate bill aimed at expanding parents’ options for early learning opportunities for children between 3- and 4-years-old, establishing a state goal to provide access to programs for all children in that age group.

The measure calls for moving the Executive Office of Early Learning to the Department of Human Services. The office currently operates Hawaii’s public preschool program within the Department of Education.

House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, a Democrat, supports the bill. Expanding early learning requires collaboration with the private sector, which the state education department cannot achieve, she said.

About 20,000 kids children between 3 and 4 years old do not have access to preschools, child care or early education opportunities due to financing and availability, she said.

Rep. Justin Woodson, a Democrat who chairs the House Lower and Higher Education Committee and supports the bill, said that although the measure aims to expand the early learning program, he opposes dismantling public preschools.

“The public pre-K program, that will not change, that will not be altered,” Woodson said. “We’re going to continue to expand our public pre-K program. That is the intention.”

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