Two Democrats in the state Senate want to expand access to pre-kindergarten school programs, citing their success in other states.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) and Sen.-elect Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) have introduced Senate Bill 6 before the Legislature convenes next week.

While some Alaska districts already have pre-K programs they're not seen at a statewide level, and that's what Begich and Kawasaki are pursuing.

“What does this do for parents? It ensures their kid has a greater chance of succeeding if they already don’t have access to pre-K,” Begich said. “It gives us a better preparation especially in our more rural communities where people may not speak English as a first language initially."

Begich and Kawasaki also mention a Rice University pre-K study, which found that children who completed a Michigan school's pre-K program grew up to have better outcomes in fields ranging from income to criminal activity than peers who weren't enrolled. According to part of the analysis, every dollar invested in the Michigan program saved the government more than $7 in future costs associated with its participants.

“It gives better preparation for those kids so when they get into kindergarten and when they get into a school setting, they are more prepared to read, they are more prepared to excel in mathematics,” Begich said.

Like many lawmakers whose bills didn’t pass during previous sessions, Begich is reprising an effort he made last year. He says the pre-K programs have worked well in Oklahoma and Arkansas, both conservative-leaning states.

Their programs tout results-based success, something new Gov. Mike Dunleavy stressed during his campaign.

“It’s not an issue of politics,” Begich said. “It’s an issue of priorities.”

Begich said he understands bills with fiscal implications are difficult to advance, but he notes there already is about $3 million for pre-K funding available for next year.

“You’re essentially talking about jump-starting the program, working with the lowest performing districts, so yeah; it costs money,” Begich said. “But in the long run, it’s going to cost us a lot less to have those kids educated.”

Lawmakers are trickling into Juneau in advance of a two-year session, the state’s 31st. Pre-session bill filings are taking place this week, with the first batch already filed Monday. The next round gets rolled out on Friday.

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