Point of View: Big steps to strengthen child care system

Over the last month the Alaska Legislature and governor have taken important steps to strengthen child care. Improving our child care system is essential for working parents to get back to work, and is a critical measure to improving health outcomes for children, including reducing childhood abuse and neglect.

We are proud to be part of a record number of advocates and subject matter experts who spoke up about child care this year, and it is a breath of fresh air to see how state leaders have responded with meaningful action.

First, we want to recognize Senate Finance Committee members who included $15 million for child care grants in the Operating Budget to improve wages for child care workers. This funding is necessary to pay adequate wages to the roughly 1,700 Alaskans who work as child care providers. Historically low wages in child care have created massive labor shortages for child care providers, which in turn means there aren’t enough child care spaces for working families. Inclusion of $15 million for labor force stabilization is the single most important thing the Legislature can do this year to strengthen the child care sector, and we urge the House and Senate to preserve this important funding line item as the budget heads toward the finish line.

Second, we are extremely grateful to Rep. Julie Coulombe and the bipartisan cosponsors of House Bill 89, which makes statutory reforms to strengthen the quality and affordability of child care. Rep. Zack Fields is a particularly notable co-sponsor, who has worked tirelessly for the past two years on child care issues in Alaska. The House Health and Social Services Committee recently passed this bill with unanimous and bipartisan support, and we hope the House Finance Committee has time to hear and pass House Bill 89 this year. This legislation expands the number of families eligible for child care subsidies, incentivizes high quality early care and learning, and establishes a tax credit to incentivize private businesses to establish child care facilities on site or to provide child care stipends to their employees. These reforms are based on best practices proven to be successful in other states, and we hope the Legislature passes HB 89 into law.

Third, we offer a huge thanks to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for establishing a child care task force with representation from business leaders, the Department of Health, child care providers, and other stakeholders. This action shows a genuine commitment to addressing the systemic issues that are preventing a thriving child care system. This task force will meet over the summer and fall and its recommendations should inform next year’s budget and should help support passage of bills like HB 89.

Funding in the budget, statutory reforms and support from the administration are all necessary to strengthen the child care system in Alaska. We applaud the Senate Finance Committee, House sponsors of HB 89, and leaders within the Dunleavy administration for advancing complementary proposals to help get Alaska’s workforce back on track with a reliable child care system.

Sharlay Mamoe is the administrator of the Petersburg Children’s Center, Christina Eubanks-Ohana is the administrator of Hillcrest Children’s Center in Anchorage, Lori Berrigan is the administrator of Palmer Lifeways Preschool, and Candace Richey is the owner of Candi’s Tot Stop in North Pole.