Alaska’s early childhood education system is an essential part of the economy, enabling families to work and employing a significant workforce, all while preparing young children for school and life. The pandemic has increased public awareness of its importance for Alaska as well as the complexities of delivering affordable, high-quality child care to all children who need it.
Prior to the pandemic, the demand for high-quality child care surpassed the supply in Alaska, creating hardship for many families. To make matters worse, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the system. While the majority of Alaska’s early childhood education programs are open, they are struggling financially amidst fluctuating enrollments and rising operational costs to keep children safe and healthy. In a recent thread survey, more than 50% of programs are concerned about having to close this year. Alaska cannot afford to lose any of these small businesses.
thread’s vision is that Alaska’s families have access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education, supporting children’s growth and development. It also means early childhood educators are valued for their work and compensated accordingly.
But before Alaska can realize this vision, the early childhood education system must be stabilized to ensure it will be there for families on the other side of the pandemic. Then the system must be built back better with public and private partnership.
Economic Impact of Early Childhood Education
In 2019, Alaska’s early childhood education sector accounted for more than half a billion dollars of economic activity annually from families being able to work as well as the jobs it creates. Alaska’s economy would be negatively impacted without this activity (or a reduced level of this activity).
To capture the economic importance of the childhood education system for Alaska and to show the gaps in care, thread sponsored new updates to the following research:
- 2020 Economic Impact Report: Early Care & Learning in Alaska — With data collected just prior to the pandemic, this report illustrates how important child care is for the economic health of Alaska’s families, businesses and communities.
- Early Care & Learning Data Dashboard — To bring the supply and demand story to life, the dashboard provides an interactive comparison of early childhood education services and cost across Alaska. It also gives a breakdown of school readiness from community to community.
The bottom line is that child care is a critical infrastructure support for parents going to work, and businesses employing parents, and an economic driver for the state. These benefits hold true during/after the pandemic. Access to high-quality early childhood education is going to help Alaska’s families confidently return to the workplace knowing their children are safe in high-quality programs.
2021 Policy Recommendations
To ensure the early childhood education system survives, thread presented recommendations for stabilizing the system during COVID-19. Further policy recommendations for 2021, begin to look forward to increasing the number of high-quality programs to support Alaska’s economic recovery.
thread’s Recommendations to Stabilize Child Care during COVID-19
At a high-level, thread’s recommendations to maintain the existing level of child care capacity are focused on short-term financial assistance, specifically:
- Invest in child care programs (many small businesses) by providing financial assistance to help them stay afloat during the pandemic.
Status: Many child care programs have been able to leverage federal, State, local funding, but need additional funding to stay open in 2021.
- Assist families in affording high-quality child care programs while returning to the workplace and beyond.
Status: The State of Alaska Child Care Assistance Program has increased opportunities for families who need help affording care.
- Support the early childhood education workforce through the pandemic as they are essential workers without adequate compensation and benefits.
Status: Programs have worked hard to retain their workforce. Early educators have been prioritized for vaccinations. Alaska SEED is offering financial assistance to early educators.
- Engage the business community in the child care conversation and solutions, and how to best support working families.
Details of each of these recommendations, can be found here.
Because of Covid-19, my business has dropped down to 2 part time children. I have been using my savings. With thread’s QI, I can purchase what is needed for the children. Also, mask, handi-wipes, cleaning supplies, bills and food, etc.Child Care Program, Soldotna
thread’s 2021 Policy Fact Sheet for Early Childhood Education
As the child care system is stabilized, thread also advocates for policy change that will increase access to high-quality early childhood education, including Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K).
- Recommendation: Increase access to high-quality early childhood education by investing in Learn & Grow, Alaska’s Quality Recognition & Improvement System (QRIS), and Alaska System of the Early Education Development (SEED). Together, these systems focus on making improvements in curriculum, classroom environment, teacher skills, and more.
Benefit: High-quality early childhood education programs help children start school ready to learn and succeed. With more high-quality programs available, families have more choice for their children.
- Recommendation: Invest in publicly/privately funded mixed delivery system for Pre-K. A mixed delivery system means that Pre-K is delivered in several settings: public schools, licensed child care centers/family homes, Head Start and other community-based care settings.
Benefit: Pre-K helps children get prepared for school and gives more children access to high-quality early childhood education. The benefit of a mixed delivery system is that most families desire care during their work day hours and in their local community. Delivering Pre-K in licensed based child care settings, addresses such needs, and keeps children in familiar environments.
Currently, the Alaska State Legislature is considering proposed early childhood bills, such as SB8: Pre-K/Elementary Education Programs/Funding: Reading introduced by Senator Begich. thread is supportive of these efforts to advance high-quality early childhood education, but advocates for Pre-K offered in a mixed delivery system.
Read thread’s entire 2021 Policy Fact Sheet here.
The pandemic has had a social, emotional, and academic impact on children. It has been an unprecedented moment of hardship for many. But with that hardship comes an opportunity for change. With intentional planning and investment, access to high-quality early childhood education can become a reality for more Alaska families, allowing them to return to work while their children are learning and being cared for in high-quality settings. It takes community involvement to build the system back better.
To get involved in this issue: