Educators say Dunleavy pre-K, Head Start cuts would hurt families
Education workers across the state are reeling after Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 was announced on Wednesday.
Under the governor's proposal, K-12 education would take a $325 million hit. It also zeroes out $8 million in funding for pre-kindergarten programs, with Head Start funding through federal Title I grants drying up as well.
"We wouldn't survive," said Kimmer Ball, an instruction support coach in the Anchorage School District's Title I office. "The Title I funds would not be enough to absorb the blow. Unfortunately it's nothing new; (we're) already getting emails from teachers asking, 'What does this mean?'"
It means that if ASD loses what could be more than $150 million in state funding under the Dunleavy budget, which equates to 1,000 to 1,800 positions, the pre-K and Head Start programs will be no more.
"It's scary," said Jessica Hedge, a first-year pre-K teacher at Fairview Elementary School. "I'm in the same boat as a lot of other teachers who could potentially get pinks slips at the end of the year. I did all my work and trained for preschool, and now all of this could be taken away."
Hedge also mentioned the budget's proposed 41 percent cut for the University of Alaska, as the Anchorage campus faces program accreditation issues at its School of Education.
"The UAA program could be taken away," Hedge said. "It's hard to believe, I may have to move out of state and I grew up in Alaska, went to high school and college in Alaska. It's scary."
Early education is already having a hard time attracting and retaining teachers. Some move up the ranks, while others leave the area.
"This is where we should be investing money," Ball said. "Based on data, based on brain research that suggests from 2 to 6 is where our brain is most receptive making the most connections. If we use the skills of just getting by, our coping skills, then that's what strengthens in the brain."
The advantages of early child development are profound and have a direct impact on the rest of the school district.
"If our goal is 90 percent graduation by 2020, pre-K and Head Start has a significant amount of data that suggests if we get them young and prime the brain at this age, then they will continue to foster good habits, good social skills through graduation," Ball said. "It also says if they have a friend in high school, they will stay in high school."
"They get free meals," Hedge said. "They get the structure of what a school day looks like for when they enter kindergarten. They get that head start of emotional skills of socializing with friends and dealing with problems that come when they get older. Exposure to all the different kinds of print, numbers and things like that so when they are ready for kindergarten they are ready to learn."
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