Point of View: Millions needed for Alaska’s child care sector

Alaska is facing a crisis that demands your immediate attention: child care. It’s not a new problem, but one that has grown over time due to various factors. The solution? A $30.5 million public investment in the FY25 state operating budget in the form of direct operating grants to child care businesses, and a critical $5.2 million match to federal Head Start funding. Some might balk at such a large-scale investment, but let’s consider this: The state regularly makes policy decisions and enacts incentives in favor of economic development in other sectors.

Without public investment, Alaska will continue to witness an inadequate and diminishing supply of child care services. This will have immediate ripple effects throughout the state. Entire communities are at risk of being deprived of essential services because doctors, teachers, public safety workers and other professionals require child care support. Additionally, families are forced to make tough choices, with some leaving the state due to the lack of accessible and affordable child care options.

Investing in direct operating grants now is not just a band-aid solution for a sector that operates on a shoestring; it’s a proactive measure to ensure the stability and growth of our communities while working towards a longer-term goal of sustainable investment in child care. With these grants, child care businesses can pay modestly competitive wages, invest in quality programming, and expand their service capacity without further burdening parents who are already struggling to pay for care.

Some might question whether grants will make a difference. The answer lies in what’s happening in Juneau right now. With City and Borough of Juneau’s recent investments in direct operating grants to businesses, the child care system in Juneau has stabilized and is expanding. Juneau child care programs are able to offer competitive wages, paid professional development, and provide quality care to families. As a result of this local investment, more than 30% of the child care workforce in Juneau holds a Child Development Associate credential, and 15% are working on the next step up to earn an Occupational Endorsement Certificate through the UA system. This success story serves as a beacon of hope for the rest of Alaska, and could be easy to replicate statewide as the infrastructure is currently in use through the Alaska Child Care Grant Program within the state Department of Health.

Lawmakers are already considering policy remedies, and the Governor’s Task Force on Child care helped identify course corrections intended to make it easier to open new child care businesses. Those actions are a huge win and will be needed regardless of whether new funds are directed at stabilizing the sector. Still, the benefit of those actions will be amplified by this funding.

We cannot afford to ignore the child care crisis any longer. It’s time for bold action. Updating state policy, ensuring match funds for Head Start, and investing in direct operating grants are a step in the right direction. Let’s prioritize the well-being of our children, families and communities by making child care accessible, affordable, and sustainable for all Alaskans.

The Alaska Early Childhood Advocacy Group (AECAG) is a statewide coalition of nonprofit organizations that work with a unified voice to make Alaska a great place for children and families.