Advocates petition Legislature to restore early education funds

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - In the last installment of her series, Amanda Brennan reports on the response of state policy makers regarding the loss of financial support for the Early Head Start Program.
Amanda Brennan; Reporting>>: The Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED, provides funding through the Equitable Access to Quality Programs Pre-Elementary Grant. For the past ten years DEED has allowed funds from the grant to be put towards Head Start and Early Head Start. As of July of 2019, that will no longer be the case. On January 17th, non-profit agencies who provide early childcare with the support of both state and federal funds, were told by DEED that not only were birth to two year old children no longer supported, but that the due date for the 2019 grant application was moved up to February 16th, 2018, instead of the original due date of June 1st, 2018. In a letter to DEED Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson, President of the Alaska Head Start Association, or AHSA, testified that no prior notification was given to Head Start directors about the need to expedite the timeline, and there was little consultation regarding the change in application criteria
and the elimination for Early Head Start services. Early Learning Administrator, Anji Gallanos says DEED reached out repeatedly to notify Head Start administrators regarding any changes to the application.
Anji Gallanos; DEED>>: "Prior to putting out any grant last year, we engaged in three listening sessions between the months of November to January, where we invited all Head Start programs to give us input before the grant even went out we were engaged in that conversation. In addition to that I personally was on the call with the Alaska Head Start Association every month as she always has been, and discussed any types of changes. We also hosted two listening sessions with all Head Start Directors in January."
Amanda Brennan; Reporting>>: But according to Thrivalaska Executive director, Alicia Berka and Shade, not only are Gallanos' statements inaccurate, but the January meetings she refers to were the initial discussion from the 17th and an in-person meeting in Anchorage on January 24th, only 7 days after the meeting where the grantees discovered the changes to the application. When asked by Berka during the second meeting why AHSA was not consulted by DEED, Gallanos stated she regretted she had not done that.
Berka says after contacting nine legislators, as well as Governor Walker, only Representatives Steve Thompson and Scott Kawasaki responded to her concerns. Kawasaki says that despite the budget cuts, early childcare for family at the poverty line should remain a top priority.
Rep. Scott Kawasaki; (D) Fairbanks>>: "As budgets have been cut over the last five years, there's definitely been impacts that families, individuals, people who are working families on the poverty level have felt it the hardest. I think that the legislature needs to do a better job of providing these types of services. Education's a priority. It's in the constitution. It brings families together, and it ensures that kids have a great start in life."
At the time of this report the due date for the application was returned to the original June 1st deadline, however, the changes to the Equitable Access to Quality Programs Pre-Elementary Grant application still remain, leaving Early Head Start programs on the chopping block.
Amanda Brennan reporting.