By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 11/04/07)
The Tax Foundation has long been a supporter of early childhood care and education dating from the early 1990’s when former Governor John Waihee asked Foundation staff to serve as part of a think tank. All participants agreed that those early years are the most important and the most impressionable for any child.
All agreed that the learning curve is the steepest in those first three years of life and that providing nurturing care to infants and toddlers assured a long life of learning and a head start on the educational pathway. But some major obstacles stood in the way of providing universal early childhood care and education. While early childhood care and education would improve performance in education as children matriculated through the formal education system, providing that early childhood education was a challenge as the uninitiated viewed childcare as mere “babysitting.” As a result, providers of quality early childhood education were few and far between because the compensation did not provide an attractive career path.
Although advocates of early childhood care and education argued that an investment up front could provide cost savings in the long run, securing attractive compensation for those quality service providers proved to be a major challenge for the efforts to provide universal early childhood education. It was also acknowledged that there was no shortage of people willing to provide childcare and as one observer pointed out it wasn’t like their babies were left at home alone with no care provider.
But the challenge was to insure that there were early childhood educators who could provide the quality of care to insure early success. To that end, it was recommended that licensing of early childhood educators be granted only to those who had training and could provide that quality care.
But that still did not address the issue of providing attractive compensation for those providers who are licensed. A variety of recommendations were made including providing donated sites for childcare such as schools and churches, union halls and the like. This could help to reduce overhead costs so that more of the fees charged could go toward the care providers’ compensation. Other suggestions ranged from giving care providers training and helping them to get their licenses to providing free food, books and toys to help the care providers improve the quality of care.
Enough momentum was built such that the legislature passed a law recognizing the need for a coordinated effort to provide universal early childhood care and education in Hawaii. The legislation called for an independent coordinating group with participation by all the departments of the state as it was recognized that early childhood education crossed many jurisdictional boundaries from the department of education to human services and housing to accounting and general services.
The coordinating mechanism became known as the Good Beginnings Alliance. While it has made steady progress in raising awareness of the need for universal early childhood care and education, it still has its challenges promoting, financing and educating the public about the importance of early childhood education.
So it comes as a surprise to learn that the agency that licenses early childhood care providers is refusing to take applicants for a variety of reasons including the fact that they need to fill out their own applications or need to speak English to fill out those applications or to provide child care in public housing projects. With respect to the latter, the response from the licensing agency was the question of who would want childcare in a low-income public housing project? Of course, this is part of the same agency that is supposed to be getting people off of welfare and into the workforce.
One would think that the dynamic of licensing qualified child care providers who can perhaps speak the language of their clients wanting to be gainfully employed would be just what our community needs. Not only would it add to the supply of early childhood care providers, but it would provide employment for those who are currently unemployed, provide care by those who speak the same language as their clients, but also provide that care on site, where the care is needed.
Turning away these potential care providers is not only a shame, but also a poor use of our tax dollars.