Joy Lyon, Executive Director of Association for the Education of Young Children of Southeast Alaska speaks to the City Finance Committee about Best Starts for Juneau’s Kids during the meeting at Assembly Chambers Thursday. (Greg Philson | Juneau Empire)

Best Starts Juneau asks city for pre-K pilot program funding

Hoping to address early education issues, Best Starts for Juneau’s Kids, is requesting $2.18 million from the city for a pre-kindergarten program.

Best Starts for Juneau is a program to help prepare children for kindergarten. The goal of the two-year pilot program is to give childcare providers financial incentives. The idea is that the incentives will increase teacher wages, improve learning environments and adopt new curriculum.

“Best Starts initiative addresses the workforce issues so parents can work and raise their families here and education issues,” said Joy Lyon, Executive Director of Association for the Education of Young Children of Southeast Alaska at the City and Borough Finance Committee meeting Thursday. “Children tend to get further and further behind and it’s hard for them to catch up. Juneau is the best place to live and raise your family … once you turn 5.”

The program’s incentive awards are based on the number of children in the class and quality level of teaching, based on Learn & Grow, Alaska’s statewide Quality Recognition and Improvement System. Incentives would range between $125-$250 per month per child.

The group that presented to the committee included Ted Wilson, Director of Teaching and Learning Support at the Juneau School District, Brian Holst, Executive Director of Juneau Economic Development Council and Blue Shibler, owner of Discovery Preschool.

Wilson said the district has been working with Best Starts and believes children need pre-kindergarten because of how few are actually kindergarten-ready. He said putting this kind of investment into the system could go toward more efficient schooling.

According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Care and Development, 32 percent of kindergarten students in Juneau demonstrate 11 of 13 goals determined by the department as “kindergarten ready.” Those skills range from communication to social interaction to general knowledge.

“What students need, besides the social and emotional support of preschool, is a higher level of language learning,” Wilson said. “If students come into kindergarten with a higher level of language, we could move much more quickly into teaching them how to read.”

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said while he was concerned with quality of childcare he also was concerned with quantity of childcare providers.

“I have heard story after story of people leaving or not coming to Juneau,” Kiehl said. “I think the lack of childcare is part of that.”

According to the projections done by AEYC, if this program is funded beyond two years, the number of childcare spaces could more than double from 412 currently to 828 in five years. The goal with increases in the amount of childcare could also mean an increase in affordable childcare. Lyon said she felt if nothing is done, a reversal of fortune could be imminent.

“If we do nothing, we could be looking at a potential collapse,” Lyon said. “We are at a tipping point where we are going to make it or break in Juneau. Investing now means we have a bright future ahead. We will be known as the place to live.”

The committee voted 6-2 to move the request to the Fiscal Year 2019 budget pending list.

Mayor Ken Koelsch and Assembly member Mary Becker were the only dissenting votes and expressed that time and community support should be factored into the decision.

“$2.18 million is a lot of bucks,” Koelsch said. “We need to make sure the community is more engaged.”

Becker agreed and also felt making a decision would not offer enough time for such a major issue.

“It seems a little scary to put pending list because we have so much to look at,” Becker said.

City moves Juneau Commission on Aging request to pending list

City Manager Rorie Watt presented a request for $10,000 for the Juneau Commission on Aging to help the the stay on its mission of promoting senior citizen participation in the planning and development of programs which benefit and enhance the health, safety and welfare of senior citizens in the City and Borough of Juneau.

Watt said this request would be just for one year and then staff would then reevaluate what has been done next year and decide on amount.

Assembly member Loren Jones made the recommendation that the request be placed on the budget pending list to be considered in a future meeting. It was unanimously approved.

The next Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9.


• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.


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