Speaker Line Up

You’ve been hearing it’s time to “build child care back better.” These leaders from across the country will share how they are doing it. Be inspired by their progress and insights to make lasting change for Alaska’s families, children, businesses and community.

Special Messages from Senator Lisa Murkowski & Senator Dan Sullivan

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski

U.S. Senator for Alaska

Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator, is a third generation Alaskan proudly serving as the first Alaskan born senator. Murkowski was born in Ketchikan and raised in towns across the state, including Wrangell, Juneau, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.

Senator Murkowski has long-advocated for the Arctic as a national priority and continues to push the United States to invest in the infrastructure and assets critical to supporting an Arctic strategy.

She is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee (Subcommittees –Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Defense; Energy and Water Development; Homeland Security; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies), Ranking Member of the Interior-Environment Subcommittee, and member of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to name a few. Read more.

Senator Dan Sullivan

U.S. Senator for Alaska

Dan Sullivan was sworn in as Alaska’s eighth United States Senator on January 6, 2015. Sullivan serves on four Senate committees vital to Alaska: the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; the Armed Services Committee; the Environment and Public Works Committee; and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, Sullivan served as Alaska’s Attorney General and Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. As Alaska’s Attorney General, Sullivan’s number one priority was protecting Alaskans, their physical safety, and individual rights – particularly Alaska’s most vulnerable.

Sen. Dan Sullivan has a distinguished record of military and national security service. He is currently a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and has served in a variety of command and staff billets on active duty and in the reserves. Read more.

First-look at the Untapped Economic Potential in Alaska

Aaron Merchen

Director of Policy and Programs | U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Aaron Merchen is director of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce. Merchen works on the Chamber Foundation’s early childhood education portfolio leading efforts to educate policy makers, state and local chambers and early education advocates on business’ role in early education to promote investments in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Merchen holds degrees from South Dakota State University and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and son.

Spark Moderator & Presenter
Child Care in Alaska Today & the Opportunity to Build Back Better with BIG Strides in Accessibility, Affordability, Quality

Harriet Dichter


Consulting Director, Early Education Services, Child Care State Capacity Building Center

Harriet Dichter has extensive experience in public policy, strategy, and systems building with a focus on analysis and action with an social justice and equity framework. Harriet’s expertise comes her leadership positions as Pennsylvania Secretary of Department of Human Services, Founding Deputy Secretary of Office of Child Development and Early Learning, and Policy Director of Department of Education, to name a few.

Harriet has made great strides in developing new policy and program, tackling finance and governance, and building systems, whether from inside government or working as an advocate. She has also authored numerous publications on early childhood systems building, governance and finance.

SPARK 1 – Taking BIG Strides to Reform & Strengthen New Mexico’s Child Care System

Senator Michael Padilla

State Senator | New Mexico

Bio coming soon.

Elizabeth Groginsky

Cabinet Secretary for Early Childhood Education | New Mexico

Elizabeth Groginsky has more than two decades of executive leadership experience administering public and private human service organizations at the national, state and local levels.

In November 2019, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Groginsky as the first cabinet secretary for the newly created New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department. Under her leadership, the new department acted swiftly to stabilize the child care industry during the pandemic, secured long-term funding for early childhood programs and services, and implemented a historic expansion of the state’s child care assistance program.

Prior to her appointment as ECECD Secretary, she served as the assistant superintendent of early learning for the District of Columbia, where she administered programs to ensure equal access to quality services for the District’s most vulnerable children and their families. In 2009, D.C. was first in the nation to pursue universal pre-K and today has the highest U.S. participation rate, with 85 percent of 4-year-olds and 75 percent of 3-year-olds.

Before joining the D.C. Superintendent’s office, Elizabeth directed early childhood education for United Way Worldwide, where she helped expand the number of communities collecting and using population-based early childhood data. In addition, Elizabeth served as the first executive director of the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, a national coalition to improve state policies and practices in the development and use of early childhood data systems.

Elizabeth also has extensive experience with Head Start programs. She began as a family services coordinator, later administered a county program, and then directed the Head Start Collaboration Office for the State of Colorado. In Washington, D.C., she oversaw one of only eight state Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grants.

Elizabeth holds a master’s degree in social sciences from the University of Colorado at Denver and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.

SPARK 2 – Taking a Stride Towards BIG Change with a Historic Campaign for Universal Preschool in Multnomah County

Jessica Vega Pederson

Commissioner | Multnomah County, Oregon

Jessica Vega Pederson serves on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and the Boards of Portland Children’s Levy, Forth, and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. A former technology professional, she graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in information systems management and philosophy.

Before being elected to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, Jessica served as a state representative in the Oregon legislature where she was the first Latina elected to the House. In the legislature, Jessica fought for issues impacting working families such as paid sick time and pay equity to improve the lives of working Oregonians.

SPARK 3 – Building it Back Better with New Public & Private Partnerships

Grace Reef

President, Early Learning Policy Group, LLC

Grace Reef is the founder of the Early Learning Policy Group, LLC, a northern Virginia based early childhood consultant firm. The Early Learning Policy Group focuses on strengthening the quality of child care and early learning at the federal, state, and local levels through policy analysis, strategic thinking and partnership building, effective communication and advocacy approaches, and pursuing alternative financing strategies and best business practices to support early childhood initiatives.

A veteran political and policy strategist, Grace worked for 17 years in the U.S. Senate as a senior policy advisor on issues related to families with children for Senators George Mitchell, Tom Daschle and Chris Dodd. Additionally, Grace was the Chief of Policy & Evaluation for seven years at the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), doing business as Child Care Aware® of America

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