Opinions

Funding child care strengthens Alaska

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Across Alaska, parents, educators and early childhood education advocates are working hard to ensure our children receive high-quality care and education that supports their healthy development. And while all of us are doing our best to ensure Alaska’s children have the programs and support they need to have the strongest start possible in life, a lack of resources constrains our ability to serve more families and enhance the quality of care our state’s children receive. Thankfully, Congress provided every state with much-needed additional funding last year to invest in our nation’s youngest learners.

In March of 2018, lawmakers from both parties in Congress approved a significant two-year increase in funding to the Child Care and Development Block Grant, or CCDBG, program, which allows states to help low-income families, who otherwise might not be able to afford it, access quality child care. This funding has been instrumental in enabling child care centers to implement the important and required quality improvement standards Congress enacted in 2014 — standards that help ensure children are in top-notch child care settings that are safe and supportive of their healthy development.

As the executive director of Best Beginnings here in Alaska, I’m especially grateful to Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, who were supportive of the bill that made this investment possible.

In my work leading Best Beginnings, a public-private partnership that mobilizes people and resources to ensure all Alaska child begin school ready to succeed, I have seen first-hand that high-quality early childhood experiences lead to long-term benefits for a child's cognitive, behavioral, and emotional growth.

Throughout my years working in early childhood education, I have identified one consistent obstacle that the most-skilled educators and dedicated parents struggle to overcome: access. Far too many families across our state and around the country are unable to access quality child care programs. This remains one of the greatest challenges facing our youngest learners in Alaska and around the country.

A lack of affordable, high-quality child care leads to worse outcomes for everyone in a family. For families, the inability to afford or realistically access child care often results in missing more days of work, giving up work entirely, or being forced to forgo other basic needs to ensure their children are in good care. For children, lack of access means losing out on the development driven by learning and playing alongside other children in a safe and supportive environment.

Congress should be proud of what they have been able to accomplish for families in recent years. But high-quality child care remains out of reach for far too many families — both here in Alaska and across the United States. As Congress considers funding levels for federal programs through the appropriations process in the weeks ahead, I hope to see bipartisan efforts building on this momentum to ensure CCDBG and other key early childhood education programs reach even more eligible children across the country. These investments benefit children, their families and the communities they call home.

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Abbe Hensley is the executive director at Best Beginnings in Anchorage.

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