HONOLULU, HI – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke hosted a roundtable discussion at Kuhio Elementary School with early childhood providers and experts to talk about the critical need to expand access to quality, affordable early childhood programs. Senator Hirono and Lt. Governor Luke heard from stakeholders and discussed their efforts at the state and federal level to expand access to early childhood education.
Recently, Lt. Governor Luke launched the “Ready Keiki” initiative—a multi-faceted plan to expand access to preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Hawaii by 2032. In Congress, Senator Hirono has championed the Child Care for Working Families Act—legislation that would create a national child care infrastructure to ensure children can get the early childhood education they need to thrive, and parents can get back to work. Specifically, the legislation would make child care affordable for working families, expand access to preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, improve the quality of care for all children, and increase compensation and provide training for child care workers.
“Early education lays the groundwork for a lifetime of success—making our keiki more likely to succeed in school, earn higher wages, and live healthier lives. The importance of early education is clear, but right now, too many families in Hawaii are unable to find, or afford, quality early education,” said Senator Hirono. “Today, we heard from providers and experts about the many challenges programs and families are facing—and what more we can do to build an early childhood system that supports them. From developing the Hawaii Pre-Plus Program when I was Lieutenant Governor to working in Congress to pass the Child Care for Working Families Act—expanding access to quality, affordable early education has long been a top priority of mine. I’m grateful Lieutenant Governor Luke is building on this important work—having launched the Ready Keiki initiative—and I look forward to partnering with her at the federal level to build an early childhood system that prepares our keiki to excel in school and in life.”
“Preschool is key to providing our keiki the development and learning they need for their future — but the reality is that only 50% of three- and four-year-olds in our state have access to a pre-K education,” said Lt. Governor Luke. “Ensuring universal access to preschool across Hawaii is a critical need that requires collaboration from all levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors, and philanthropic partners. I would like to thank the supporters of Ready Keiki for working diligently to create more pre-K seats for our Hawaii keiki. The support of Senator Hirono and our congressional delegation to secure federal funding and partnership opportunities will also help us to best serve Hawaii’s youngest learners.”
The Ready Keiki Initiative identifies sites for additional pre-K classrooms, increases provider subsidies to expand access to children from lower-income households, and envisions educational partnerships to train new pre-K teachers and assistants. It also envisions onsite early learning classrooms at private businesses and University of Hawaii (UH) campuses. Last year, the Hawaii State Legislature appropriated $200 million to expand access for pre-K eligible children.
Senator Hirono’s Child Care for Working Families Act, which she re-introduced with Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) last Congress, would make child care affordable for working families, expand access to preschool programs for 3- and 4-year olds, improve the quality of care for all children, and increase compensation and provide training for child care workers. Under this legislation, which the Senators plan to reintroduce, working and middle class families in Hawaii would pay no more than 7% of their income for child care and many families with lower incomes would pay nothing at all.
Senator Hirono and Lt. Governor Luke were joined by Christina Cox, President of KCAA Preschools; Randy Miyashiro from Kamaaina Kids; Megan McCorriston from Seagull Schools; Cindy Barley from Rainbow Schools; Bruce Voss, Chairperson on the Hawaii State Board of Education; Yuuko Arikawa-Cross, Executive Director of the Executive Office on Early Learning;Nathan Murata, Dean of the UH Manoa College of Education; Terry Lock, Instructor at the UH Manoa College of Education; Terry George, President and CEO of Harold K.L. Castle Foundation; Wai?ale?ale Sarsona, Vice President of Kamehameha Schools Hiialo Group; and Vivian Eto from Early Childhood Action Strategy.
As Hawaii Lieutenant Governor, Senator Hirono led the development of the Hawaii Pre-Plus Program, which expanded access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education programs for 3- and 4-year-olds from families at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Today, there are 14 Pre-Plus sites statewide, including Kuhio Elementary, serving 280 students on Oahu and Hawaii Island.
In Congress, Senator Hirono has remained a strong and consistent advocate for expanding access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education programs. Last June, she delivered remarks in support of child care investments during a press conference with parents, child care advocates, and other members of Congress. A week prior, she met with Hawaii parents and child care providers to discuss the shortage of quality, affordable child care in the state. In 2021, Senator Hirono joined Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) in reintroducing the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would ensure working and middle class families have access to high-quality, affordable child care and support initiatives like Ready Keiki. Senator Hirono also helped pass the American Rescue Plan Act, which included $39 billion for child care programs in the United States—including nearly $130 million to support Hawaii child care programs.
Photos and video of the roundtable are available here