CBJ considers child care proposals

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The proposals include using public facilities, helping to train workers, a revolving loan fund for both start-up and on-going programs and pursuit of more state grants.

    After consideration, the Assembly supported the CBJ simplified proposal and sent the issue to the Finance Committee to consider budget items for child care.

    CBJ Assistant Manager Mila Cosgrove told the Committee of the Whole the cost of providing childcare in Juneau exceeds parents' ability to pay.  The demand exceeds supply but providers cannot increase tuition enough to offset costs without pricing themselves out of the market.

    The current staff wage is $11 per hour.    This results in a high turnover in staff and more time spent on training workers.

    As a result, the quality of education programs isn't good enough to prepare children for kindergarten and they have a tougher time academically.

    A McDowell Group study found 74% of infants and 47% of toddlers in need of care don't have access to care.  11% of preschoolers don't have access.

    Staff recommends the CBJ address facility costs, incentivize infant and toddler care over Pre-K, require a license for child care facilities, require full-time year-round care, keep them eligible for state childcare grants, and provide a workforce development component to make sure Juneau has the workforce trained for these jobs.

    Staff eliminated some proposals made earlier like a property tax exemption, a provider stipend option in favor of a simplified per child model and eliminated a quality coach.

    Potential facilities available include a modular unit at Floyd Dryden Middle School and a modular unit at Mendenhall River Community School.

    Another option is the Best Starts model.  In fiscal year 2021, the Best Starts program would cost $573,000 to serve 427 students, a cost of $1,342 per child.  The CBJ option would cost $618,000 in the same period, serve 487 students, and cost an estimated $1,269 per child.

    The Assembly will consider which options they prefer, the amount of funding they would make available for existing programs, whether to appropriate funds for infrastructure needs in fiscal year 2020 and consider granting workforce development grants.

    Assembly Member Rob Edwardson wanted to know if the investment in early child-hood education would provide societal benefits down the road, like better workers, less crime and a reduction in the homeless population.

    "I make no promises on the long term impact.  We tried to provide options that address the capacity question and help stabilize the child care environment in Juneau," Cosgrove said.

    The CBJ would offer a request for proposals to agencies interested in using the modular units for child care.

    Mayor Beth Weldon said she has heard concerns about high administrative costs with Best Starts and not enough money going to the kids.

    Kevin Ritchie with the Best Starts Program said the two options are similar.  He said the Best Starts Program would provide more financial incentives for a higher quality education program than the CBJ proposal. 

    Ritchie said an expert steering committee is needed to make sure there is accountability, to help facilitate changes that are needed, get public input, and maintain a quality program.  He added a key issue is kindergarten readiness.

    "We are very close, there are no major disagreements, just minor issues," he explained.

    He offered the use of many assets and experience in child care for the CBJ's perusal. 

    Assembly Member Loren Jones said it could take eight to nine years to measure the success and the impacts of the program they choose.  "We would be in this for the long haul."




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