By Claire Stremple
Alaska Beacon 

Supporters say more state funding needed for child care


Child care advocates statewide have pushed lawmakers about funding problems, and the effort made a difference in the budget for the state fiscal year that starts July 1. The Legislature approved an additional $7.5 million toward grants for child care providers, though it is not certain until Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs or vetoes the budget bill.

The funding is half the amount advocates say it would take to sufficiently boost wages and stabilize the industry. Some lawmakers say they have more work to do.

Anchorage Sen. Cathy Giessel, the leader of the bipartisan Senate majority caucus, said she is hugely supportive of state funding for child care centers.

Reliable, safe child care affects the mental health outcomes of the state’s population in the future, she said. “We save money by appropriating for these vital services now.”

The Senate approved $15 million for child care, but that didn’t get enough support among the Republican-led House majority caucus, and the compromise was $7.5 million.

“My goal is to spend a lot more time talking with House counterparts,” Giessel said. “I didn’t communicate as effectively as I should have.”

Anchorage Rep. Julie Coulombe, a member of the House majority, supported additional child care funding. She is the legislature’s liaison on the governor’s child care task force, and she sponsored a bill aimed at boosting child care.

“The reason why I’m trying to figure that out is because I’m pro-life, and the governor wants to be a pro-family state,” Coulombe said. “I would hate for somebody to feel like they couldn’t have a baby because there’s no support once the baby’s born. So let’s give them some support to do it.”

Her bill did not pass this year, but Coulombe said she’s hopeful for more movement on the child care issue when legislators reconvene next year.

Blue Shibler is the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children. She said child care centers are struggling despite intense demand for services.

“Whether you’re talking about rural Alaska or cities, every single part of Alaska has a child care shortage. And that in the heart of that sort of shortage is absolutely, simply that it’s not a good business model — you can’t make a profit. In fact, you can only suffer a loss, really, at this point,” Shibler said.

There are no state-licensed child care providers in Wrangell.

Shibler said any funding is good, but more would be better.

“I think it’s going to help,” she said of the $7.5 million. “I don’t think we’re going to see growth in the industry, which is a bummer, because we really feel like having more child care availability is what was going to be part of the answer to the workforce shortages.”

That sentiment was echoed by Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Cathy Muñoz in April. “The lack of affordable and accessible quality child care is a significant workforce challenge,” she said in a press release.

According to one study, 77% percent of Alaska parents reported missing work because of child care challenges, and 40% of Alaskans interviewed for the study said that they or someone in their household had left a job, declined a job offer or changed jobs because of child care issues in the past year.

Christina Eubanks has run a legacy child care center in Anchorage for the last 15 years. She said the last year has been the most stressful of her career, even though demand is as high as it’s ever been.

“A woman said to me, ‘As soon as I knew my pregnancy was viable, I started looking for child care,’” Eubanks recounted. “She’s literally looking at losing her job. And she’s a professional woman losing her career because she cannot go back to work.”

But to hire staff, Eubanks has had to raise wages — the minimum she pays is $16 an hour. That pay hike for her workers means that she’s raising her rate to nearly $1,700 a month per child this summer.

“There’s a limit to what people can pay,” she said. Her child care center is considering scholarships for currently enrolled families that cannot afford the increase. She said the state funding is going to help her keep the cost to families down while she invests in retaining her staff.

The $7.5 million in the state budget is the biggest boost she’s seen from the state. It would translate to about $10,000 a month for her care center — and she plans to put it all toward salaries.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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