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Alaska Early Head Start in danger from state budget cuts

February 21, 2018
Amanda Brennan

FAIRBANKS – Changes in criteria by the ‘Department of Education and Early Development’ could cause potential cuts for statewide ‘Early Head Start’ programs.

As of January 17, the Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED, changed the age range for the Head Start program.
Funding that was once set aside for birth to five year old childcare, will only be available for 3 to 5-year-olds, meaning that grantees will have to find the matching funds to continue Early Head Start programs, or see the program cut altogether.
Executive Director of Thrivalaska, Alicia Berka, says this could affect over 750 infants and toddlers.

Alicia Berka; Executive Director, Thrivalaska >> “762 children is a lot of infants and toddlers. Our state, our child care program office has been working for years to try and increase the amount of infants and toddlers we can serve every year and then the Department of Education and Early Development just eliminated them from their budget.”

According to Berka, Head Start grants are funded federally.
Alaska receives 13 million dollars just for Early Head Start Children, however, Early Head Start grantees have to find matching funds.
The state used to provide those matching funds.

Alicia >> “We’re at a complete loss as to why they’ve done this. We don’t know if it’s to save money. They have told us that it’s to increase access to pre-elementary children. We consider children birth to five pre-elementary children and they define it, according to their statute, children only three to five. So that leaves out the entire birth to three.”

According to Thrivalaska’s Family Services Coordinator, Bonnie Rogers, 80 percent of the children who participate in Early Head Start fall within the poverty income guidelines.

Bonnie Rogers; Family Services Coord., Thrivalaska >> “About 30% of the children are foster children, homeless children, or the parents are receiving public assistance. And in fact the families of our Early Head Start children must be working or going to school full time. It’s not just a free program for them, it’s something where we’re helping the families take steps toward self-sufficiency, and not having child care is going to set them back. You can’t go to work if you don’t have reliable child care.”