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Earlier this month U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) addressed the Alaska State Legislature with his vision for improving early education in Alaska.

“When it comes to my legislation, I’ll start at the start – with early education,” Begich said during the joint floor session March 4.

Begich has introduced three early childhood bills in Washington D.C. to address the affordability, the availability, and the quality of child care.

The Tax Credit for Early Educators Act, S. 438, will offer up to $3,000 in tax credits to early childhood educators and increase the child care tax credit so more parents can afford to put their children in quality child care programs.

The Preparing and Reinvesting in Early Education Act, S. 440 will create a new student loan forgiveness program for graduates of associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs in early education. It provides needed relief for early educators and encourages people to work with children through age five.

“They’re not always the highest paying jobs and we can’t burden [early educators] with enormous amounts of debt,” Begich told legislators.

7,300 early educators make up the early care and education workforce in Alaska. This workforce cares for over 23,000 children that are in a child care setting and through these services, allows over 32,000 Alaska residents to join the workforce. At the same time, early educators' wages are among the lowest in Alaska's economy.

The Child Care Public Private Partnership Act, S. 442, will create grant incentives to help small and medium companies establish onsite or near-site childcare programs. With a 50/50 match (50 percent from private sector businesses and 50 percent from federal funding), this program will expand the supply of affordable, quality child care for working parents.

"This legislation is about providing more access to child care for working families and supporting the professionals who work in early childhood," said Stephanie Berglund, the CEO of thread, Alaska's Child Care Resource & Referral Network. "Alaska's children need a champion now more than ever as working families are facing tough choices in finding and affording quality child care. By introducing these bills, Senator Begich is that champion."

In other news, U.S. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) is cosponsoring the Continuum of Learning Act with Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) to help young children transition from pre-K to elementary school. The bill will help states improve early learning guidelines for preschoolers and would encourage educational agencies and schools to offer early education programs.

“This legislation will dramatically improve kids' educational experience as they transition from pre-K learning to elementary school,” Young said. “As a former teacher, I know that students benefit greatly when educators collaborate and coordinate so that the stages of their development are linked. Kids in Alaska, and the Nation at large, deserve these smart policy changes.”

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