Pre-K programs to lose funding after budget vetoes

ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s Head Start early childhood education program is preparing to close pre-K classrooms and cut jobs after budget vetoes, officials said.

The program lost its $6.8 million in state funding, which is used to unlock federal funds, when Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy last month vetoed line items equaling $444 million in cuts to the state operating budget, The Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

The federal program is Alaska’s largest provider of early childhood services, offering free pre-K, meals, medical care and other services to low-income children up to age 5.

Alaska programs are trying to quickly cut spending and take other measures before the Head Start school year begins in late August and early September, officials said.

Head Start leaders hope state legislators reverse the budget veto to the program.

The Alaska House approved a proposal to reverse 80% of the vetoes, including cuts to early childhood programs, but the proposal did not gain support from the 16-member Republican House minority. Dunleavy could also veto the measure if it survives the House and Senate.

“We have no idea what will happen,” said Dirk Shumaker, executive director of Kids’ Corps Inc. in Anchorage. Kids’ Corps is part of a 17-organization network operating Head Start programs in Alaska.

Early childhood programs were not cut because they did not provide value, but because the state cannot afford them, said Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow.

The governor’s priority is funding “core services,” which means funding K-12 education while other programs “cannot be paid for under the current budget scenario,” Shuckerow said.