Daycare costs a concern

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) The Assembly Childcare Committee discussed problems and solutions to the community shortage of daycare facilities.

    The committee worked on a problem statement for the issue. The statement read Juneau's childcare issue is not a single problem.  The problem is over a range of issues from capacity, to costs, to quality, and access to a sustainable level of government funding.  Traditionally in Juneau the role of setting standards and subsidies has been a State of Alaska responsibility and to some extent a Federal government as employer issue.

    The statement continued, Juneau currently has a true lack of affordable, high quality preschool and child care.  We lack the capacity to meet the demand.  This was recognized in the Juneau Economic Development plan.  Under the initiative "Attract and Prepare the Next Generation Work" was objective 2.  "Increase availability of child care year round, with an emphasis on Kindergarten readiness."

    There are currently 2,400 Pre-K children in Juneau.  1,300 of them participate in some form of childcare program.  Approximately 150 households do not receive childcare services for Pre-K children due to cost, quality or availability issues.  Over 550 households report restricted employment opportunities due to inadequate access to childcare services for Pre-K children.

    The Mayor asked the committee to answer these questions.  What role does CBJ play in addressing these challenges.  What role do partner organizations, nonprofits, childcare industry, private sector and others play in addressing these challenges.  What questions exist and what additional research is needed to provide additional data or analysis for addressing these challenges.  Can or should Juneau separate the educational component from the day care component and what are, if any, the alternative approaches to these issues other than the Best Starts proposal.

    Committee member Eric Eriksen said Juneau is trending in the wrong direction.  "The problem is getting worse.  Juneau is on its way to becoming a child care desert."

    He said Juneau has lost 20 percent of capacity for child care.  He said they have to signify there is a problem and the difficulty in solving the program is growing.

    The committee supported making definitions of terms like basic child care. 

    Eriksen asked if the committees job is to recommend this as a top priority for the Assembly.   

    Chairman Loren Jones said the level of advocacy for this issue is up to the committee.  "I think were beyond the option of doing nothing."

    Assembly member Michele Bonnet Hale said the committee should make options for the committee to consider.

    Committee member and Interim Superintendent of Juneau Schools, Bridget Weiss, said she thinks there is a need for services from zero to five years old.  She said it is premature to set priorities.  "Whether we have enough learning environments just prior to kindergarten as compared to zero to two.  They are different needs but they are critical needs."

    "Are we talking about basic care or talking about a high quality environment for children ages zero to five," she added.

    The committee also discussed the feasibility and profitability of starting a child care business.  Assembly member Rob Edwardson said if his child care business had made a profit they might not have closed it down.  "Is it a living wage.  Is it feasible that it becomes an ongoing enterprise."

    Bonnet-Hale said the cost of living in Juneau is high.  "It is not going to get lower.  How do you pay a living wage to child care workers?"

    Eriksen said there is brilliant people in Juneau and failure is not in their business plan.  Alaska is in the top 10 in child care costs in the nation.  "Juneau has more of a severe problem than other areas.  It may seem more practical for the public sector to take a more active role."

    Jones said subsidies have been important to keep day care centers open.  He noted the state legislature and federal government offer day care to employees here.  He said if day cares have to pay market rates for rent, it is impossible to operate.

    Eriksen said he has seen data that said national averages was 7-percent of family income to pay for childcare.  He said it is more like 20-percent in Juneau.

    The schools said fewer than 40-percent of children entering Kindergarten are ready and they would like that number be higher than 70-percent.

    Assembly member Wade Bryson said profitability is important to a business, "What do you call a business that lacks profit....closed."  "Every business has its ebbs and flows.  Knowing what causes the failures is a place to start with corrections."

    The committee is expected to send a report to the Assembly with recommendations by the end of February.

    There is also a tab on the CBJ website for the Child Care Committee.

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