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By Stephanie Berglund, CEO/thread

Every day thousands of working parents across Alaska leave their children with early care professionals and educators, and trust that they are being loved and cared for in a safe, educational and fun setting.  But the fact is that Alaska currently ranks in the bottom half of quality early care and education across the nation. With 90 percent of brain development occurring before the age four, what our children experience in their early care is critical to their development and success—and our future.  The time has come to invest in quality early care and education, and change the way we talk about quality care.

This spring, we witnessed a first in the history of our nation when President Obama introduced his proposed budget including a comprehensive early learning investment. This historic focus on early education supports what every parent desires for their child—access to affordable early learning opportunities that will prepare him or her for lifelong success. The proposed budget for early learning includes:

  • Investing in high-quality infant and toddler early learning and development;
  • Providing high-quality preschool for all 4 year olds; and,
  • Expanding effective parent and family support.

This plan supports what research has demonstrated for over two decades. Because critical brain development occurs between birth and the age of four, this time in child development shapes not only a young child’s preparedness and success for entering school, but for his or her trajectory of success later in life.  Investing in young children, high quality early care and education, and support for families (such as home visiting programs) produces an impressive rate of return through higher graduation and  employment rates, and stable families.

thread, Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network, supports the president’s proposed budget. This level of policy and financial resources are needed more than ever for families to support positive outcomes for children while remaining in the workforce.

In just one generation, there has been a noticeable shift in our family structure and economy. In Alaska, over 23,000 children spend over 30 hours/week in State regulated early care and education programs. Some participate in their local school district pre-kindergarten program, approximately 3,000 receive services through Head Start and a majority of over 20,000, are in State regulated child care centers and family child care homes each day.  These changes stem from families living further away from their support networks, or needing to work due to the economy, or having all of the adults in their home in the workforce.

Additionally, early care and education programs struggle to make ends meet. As a state, Alaska invests very little into quality early care and education for young children. This leaves the cost burden of these services almost entirely to Alaska’s families who are paying a premium (on average $740/month) for one child and cannot afford more. When budgets are tight, the quality of early care and education suffers—fewer programs are available, competitive wages to attract and retain talent are not offered (which is the number one indicator of quality across the country), and meeting health and safety standards become more difficult. When health and safety is the primary focus, other quality care and education standards suffer. These include supporting the early care and education workforce with training, professional development opportunities and competitive wages.

Expanding high quality early care and education is a necessary investment in our future. If the president’s budget is supported by Congress, Alaska could benefit by:

  • Providing more Preschool: $6,200,000 in the first year for Preschool for All—making preschool available for 751 additional children from low and moderate income families.
  • Investing in High-Quality Infant and Toddler Care: A substantial increase to the current 1,963 children ages birth to three who are currently served by Child Care and Development Block Grant. The amount of this increase would rely on Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grant opportunities in the years before preschool.
  • Expanding Effective Parent and Family Support: $6,900,000 in the first year to expand Home Visiting programs. Each year, 2,716 low-income mothers in Alaska give birth to a new baby and may benefit from these voluntary services.

Organizations like thread, along with our early learning partners, are working to support stronger policy and greater investments in Alaska’s young children.  We are overdue in investing to align with the science and research known to best support the development and success of our young children—and our future. The investment in the quality of care and education for babies and young children is a vital public policy issue.  I urge you to support expanding quality early care and education for young children.

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