Almost everyone will agree that children are our most important resource. Our mayor and City and Borough of Juneau Assembly have stepped up for all of Juneau’s young families and children. They have also put Juneau on the map nationally as a leader in helping young families and children succeed. Our mayor and assembly have listened to the voices of the large majority of Juneau residents, especially young parents.
We all know that affordable high-quality child care and pre-school is the dream of every parent. But unfortunately, without partial public support, affordable high-quality child care and preschool is just a dream for a great many parents everywhere.
The bottom line is that quality child care and pre-school is too expensive for the majority of families. This results in a severe shortage, and the inability of existing child care and pre-school providers to hire and retain trained teachers.
Over the past several years the Mayor and Assembly have significantly increased on-going City and Borough efforts to make child care and pre-school affordable, high quality, and available to all who need it.
First, the Mayor and Assembly provided funding for a training academy for child care and pre-school teachers. They also provided a modest ongoing salary incentive directly to child care and pre-school teachers for taking training classes (HEARTS Program). Since the start of the program the number of trained teachers employed in Juneau increased from 1 out of 7, to 1 out of 4 in 2020. While not yet enough, it proves that Juneau is moving the needle towards quality.
Second, the Assembly has provided funding to the Juneau School District to expand KinderReady, a small pre-school program conducted in some of our elementary schools.
Third, the Assembly has initiated stipends of $200 per month to state-licensed child care providers for each child served under 3 years of age. This payment helps offset the cost of higher staff ratios required for toddlers without that cost being a crushing financial burden to the families. The stipend also makes it more economically feasible for new providers to open. Primarily due to strong local support three new child care programs opened in the fall of 2020.
Additionally, the Assembly has made a start towards affordable quality pre-schools for all by initiating small direct payments of $50 per month for each child 3 to 5 years old, and an additional $50 per month support to licensed providers for each low- income family enrolled to offset the provider’s additional administrative costs.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has been a severe blow to child care and pre-school providers. Juneau was the first local government in Alaska to use CARES funds to keep child care programs economically able to operate during the pandemic. Without this temporary funding support, 67% of Juneau’s child care programs reported they may have closed due to reduced enrollments, higher staffing ratios required, and temporary closures.
Juneau’s Mayor and Assembly are giving form to the old adage, “Our children are our future, and our greatest resource.” Juneau is on a journey to show Alaska and the rest of the country how becoming a truly family friendly community can develop a stronger local economy and produce a far greater number of young adults who are equipped to be successful in life. While the process is started, there is more that needs to be done.
Please join us in thanking our Mayor and Assembly for their hard work so far to support young families and encourage them to continue their efforts.
• Kevin Ritchie is a former City and Borough of Juneau manager and former executive director of the Alaska Municipal League/Alaska Conference of Mayors. He was named “Alaska Afterschool Champion” in 2016, and was named “2020 Champion for Kids” by the Alaska Children’s Trust. He is a member or ROCK Juneau (Raising Our Children With Kindness).