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Here’s where Alaska’s gubernatorial candidates stand on the state’s growing child care problem

All four Alaskan gubernatorial candidates are visible in this composite image. From left to right are Republican incumbent Governor Mike Dunleavy, former Independent Governor Bill Walker, Democratic candidate Les Gara and Republican candidate Charlie Pierce. (composite picture)

The cost of preschool child care is a growing problem in Alaska, one of 33 states where the annual cost of child care exceeds the cost of tuition.

Here, the University of Alaska Fairbanks charges $9,870 per year; the latest available child care cost estimates predate the COVID-19 pandemic and range between $10,000 and $14,000 per year.

Since then, costs have likely increased as inflation and labor shortages affect child care providers as well as other industries statewide.

In forums, debates, and quizzes, Alaska’s four gubernatorial candidates were asked what they would do to fix the problem:

Mike Dunleavy

During the last two years of incumbent Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy’s tenure, he supported passage of the Alaska Reads Act, a sweeping education reform bill. Although it does not target child care, it does include additional funding and support for early education programs which cover children who are 4 or 5 years old and have not entered kindergarten.

Pre-K support is limited to $3 million per year, and it’s voluntary — school districts don’t have to offer it.

In response to a question included in a questionnaire from The Beacon and other news organizations, Dunleavy also pointed to $95 million in state-directed pandemic relief funds to help keep daycare businesses open. ‘children.

Grant applications for the last tranche of that money, $24 million, open this week.

Looking ahead, Dunleavy said the state, the Rasmuson Foundation and a childcare nonprofit called wire have partnered to develop a plan to achieve goals set out in a 2020 planning document.

“The Department of Health is providing funding and policy team resources to this joint effort,” he said.

One of Dunleavy’s challengers, Democratic candidate Les Gara, has repeatedly criticized Dunleavy’s decision to veto funding for pre-kindergarten programs.

In 2019, his first full year in office, Dunleavy vetoed $8.8 million, but then reversed on this and other vetoes, citing public opposition. He vetoed additional subsidies for pre-kindergarten in 2020 and 2021. These have not been reversed. He did not veto pre-kindergarten funding this year, although Gara has sometimes erroneously said he did.

Bill Walker

Independent candidate Bill Walker served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and lost re-election to Dunleavy in 2018. He is now seeking another term.

In the questionnaire, Walker said there was “no easy solution” to the child care problem and that if elected he would set up a task force to discuss four ideas: making private childcare workers eligible for state employee benefits to encourage them to stay on the job; increasing funding for “direct child care incentives”; use vacant state buildings for child care; and create a dedicated child care trust fund.

“We need more child care workers. They need to be paid a living wage, you need to make sure they have some sort of pension system one way or another,” Walker said during a Sept. 21 debate hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. from Alaska to Fairbanks.

Speaking Sept. 13 in Ketchikan, Walker suggested that direct grants to municipalities could be another solution for local communities to decide which childcare approach works for them.

For example, he pointed out efforts by the city and borough of Juneau to subsidize child care in that city.

At several events, he said childcare is a major economic concern because of its high cost and how it can keep parents out of work.

“If people can’t have a place to take care of their children, it’s hard for them to go to work, and some of them aren’t. The cost of childcare is such that some are saying, “Hey, I can make more money just by staying home and taking care of my kids,” he said Oct. 5 in Juneau. .

The Garas

Democratic candidate Gara said he supports the creation of a “universal pre-K curriculum” that would be accessible to all young people, just like the public school system already is.

While a member of the Alaska House, he Many times co-sponsored bills create such a program, but these bills were never heard in committee and were never passed by the Legislative Assembly.

In the media questionnaire, Gara advocated the creation of a state training program for child care workers and a wage subsidy program similar to the one operated by the State of Tennessee. He also noted that Colorado subsidizes rent and fixed costs for child care.

“It’s going to take state partnership, it takes investment,” he said Sept. 13 in Ketchikan, “but we should look and see which states are making it work, because Alaska isn’t making it work. “.

“We should make sure there is childcare for families who can’t afford it, because it helps the workforce and the health of the children is part of what you do” , he said on September 21 in Fairbanks.

Charlie Pierce

In a video interview with the Alaska Children’s Trust, Republican candidate Charlie Pierce said the cost of child care in Alaska is “tough”.

“I would support tax credits or encourage employers to offer (childcare) as a perk maybe,” Pierce said, but added that increased childcare spending should come at the detriment to other items in the state budget.

Pierce said he opposes new taxes or other revenue to increase services.

“I should watch where we are spending and watch what we are going to cut in trade. We’re going to have to give up something to meet those needs,” he said.

In the media questionnaire, he only said that if elected, he “will assess existing programs and make improvements and adjustments as necessary.”

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