Juneau, Alaska (KINY) The CBJ Assembly Finance Committee agreed to recommend an advisory ballot proposition this year on city and borough financial support for improvement and expansion of affordable child care.
The primary goals of this effort would be to increase the available child care to meet the needs of families and businesses and increase the percentage of five year old children who are prepared to learn. A survey in the Juneau Economic Development Final plan noted 75 percent of business/employer respondents found Juneau's availability and cost of child care services were a very significant or somewhat significant barrier to Juneau's economic development.
The Alaska Department of Education claims two out of three Juneau kids are not ready for kindergarten. Alaska also exceeds most other states in adverse childhood experiences that include sexual abuse, emotional abuse and household substance abuse.
The program's goal is to provide a curriculum, trained teachers and parental involvement to increase kindergarten readiness. Juneau has lost 20 percent of its child care and early learning providers in the last year.
The effort is expected to cost $2.8 million in the fifth year when the program is fully implemented.. That is equivalent to .58 mills or $58 per $100,000 of taxable property values in 2018.
Assembly member Beth Weldon said it would be a property tax increase. "I want to make it clear to the voters that it would be an increase."
The proposition question would read, Do you support this effort to improve and expand access for all Juneau families to affordable high quality child care and early learning/pre-school?
Mayor Ken Koelsch said Juneau has lost jobs each year since 2012 and student enrollment has dropped by one percent each year, "We can't continue to lose jobs and people out of this community." He praised the Best Start supporters for the passion they have for the issue. "Education is a priority and child care is a must."
He said $2.8 million is a huge chunk of the operating budget. He urged the Assembly to prioritize child care first and then addressing education later. "We already have the highest costs in the state and I can't see where housing costs will come down if we increase property taxes. This means young families will be paying more."
Koelsch said child care is a huge need. He said the ballot proposition doesn't get to the root of the problem.
Assembly member Rob Edwardson said he supports putting the question before the public.
Assembly member Loren Jones said the proposition would create jobs. "We do need those jobs. If families are leaving because of job opportunities elsewhere and its easier to get child care, then improving child care will keep those families here and increase our school enrollment."
Jones said the enhanced education might also increase school enrollment. "We can maybe stop families from leaving. We can add people to the work force in child care and free up families to enter the work force."
Jones described the economy as 'fairly robust'. The proposition question was approved (8-1) with only the Mayor in opposition.