Early childhood gains higher profile

Alaskans across the state made their voices heard during the 2011 legislative session and told legislators why it is critical for Alaska to invest in early learning. They called legislators, sent e-mails, and testified before committees, in person or via teleconference.

Results were mixed. Two bills (to extend Denali KidCare to more children and to establish a Parents as Teachers program) began moving through committees and can be taken up again next session. The operating budget includes funding for another year of Alaska’s preK program and flat funding for Head Start. We appreciate legislators’ support of Best Beginnings, but are disappointed we are slated to receive $180,000 fewer dollars than last year. The operating budget still needs to go to the governor for his review and approval.

Again this year, a coalition of early childhood advocates presented a united front to state policy makers about support for early care and learning. The coalition consists of Best Beginnings, Alaska Head Start Association, Alaska Infant Learning Professionals Association, Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children, and thread, Alaska’s child care resource and referral network.

As a result of strong advocacy, there is more conversation in the halls of the Capitol about early childhood. Efforts are underway to take advantage of the months between sessions to continue educating state policy makers about the value of investing early for long-term results. If you’d like to join us in this critical work, please give me a call.

Another state-level group with an interest in state policy and young children is the long-awaited Alaska Early Childhood Coordinating Council (AECCC). I attended the first meeting on May 2, 2011. The 23-member council includes participants from both the public and private sectors and is co-chaired by the Commissioners of Education & Early Development and Health & Social Services.

Its purpose is to promote positive development, improved health outcomes, and school readiness for Alaska children, prenatal through age 8. The goal: a culturally responsive, comprehensive, and accessible delivery system that links service providers, empowers families, and engages communities.

It’s a tall order, but I’m optimistic we have the discipline and focus to develop meaningful and do-able recommendations for the governor and legislature. We don’t want to create just another report for the shelf!



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