Spring is viewed as a welcome time of rebirth and renewal. It’s an expectation that remains highly valued among residents of the capital in America’s northern most state. However, like most states this year, Alaska’s Legislature is also currently grappling with fiscal realities and hard decisions. All too often, state and federal budget cuts unfortunately disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable in our society.
These days it is easy to expect fewer examples of cross-party collaboration in the midst of divided control of government in Juneau and Washington, D.C. That is why it is important to highlight instances where Republicans and Democrats are willing to come together to tackle big issues that will impact the most vulnerable in our society. Alaskans should be encouraged by Sen. Dan Sullivan’s willingness to address the increasing costs and demand for child care facing working families.
In Alaska, there are nearly 40,000 children under the age of 6 with all parents in the labor force. There are only 800 licensed center-based and family child care homes in the state, providing just 29,513 licensed child care slots. That means that more than 10,000 kids, or one in four Alaska children, are left without access to licensed child care when their parent or parents go to work. In Juneau, that number doubles to two out of every five children who lack access to licensed care. Altogether, 61 percent of Alaskans currently reside in what’s known as a “child care desert.”
The term “child care deserts” refers to communities that have more than three children for every licensed child care slot. One might not expect to find a desert in the Last Frontier, but access to quality, affordable child care remains a big problem in Alaska and across the country. Thankfully Sullivan recently announced that he would serve as an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation to increase access to child care for families in Alaska and across America.
The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act would provide competitive grants to states like Alaska to support the education, training or retention of the child care workforce. It will also help to build, renovate or expand child care facilities in areas with child care shortages. In light of the fact that the average cost of infant care in Alaska is now higher than the annual cost of college tuition, this represents much-needed and welcome reform. “Child care deserts” are harming our children today and limiting Alaska’s potential for future economic growth, especially in rural and Native communities.
When announcing the legislation, Sullivan said, “I hear repeatedly from working Alaska parents that the lack of affordable child care is among their top concerns, and those concerns are overwhelmingly confirmed by the data.”
He is right, of course, and those concerns are shared by parents across the nation. As an advocate in Washington for bipartisan solutions to help young children, I appreciate Sullivan as a principled conservative who works across party lines to honor values and get things done for Alaskans. Save the Children Action Network applauds his leadership on addressing child care deserts.
The Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act will ensure that more parents in Alaska can enter or remain in the workforce while knowing their children are enrolled in the type of quality child care that lays a strong foundation for their future success.
• Mark Shriver is the CEO of Save the Children Action Network. He resides in Washington, D.C.