The governor restored funding for Early Childhood Education after a back and forth with the legislature. But the delay means a program for low income families will be late to start in Haines and Kodiak this year.
Governor Mike Dunleavy agreed to fund the state’s early education programs, but he waited until after the start of the state’s fiscal year. That means some programs are still waiting on state funding.
The Parents as Teachers, or PAT, program in Haines and Kodiak is among them. PAT is an education program for parents.
“Parents are the primary educators of children for five or six years,” said Patrick Anderson, the CEO of Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP. It’s a non-profit that organizes PAT programs in rural communities across the state.
“The amount of time and effort that a parent puts into a child gets paid back in adulthood,” he added.
The PAT program’s goal is to give parents the tools to teach their kids even before formal preschool and kindergarten starts. Anderson says these skills help address income disparities and fill gaps in early education.
Several communities have PAT, but the Haines and Kodiak programs would have been cut as a result of the governor’s vetoes. That’s why they’re the only ones starting late.
“Until we get the funding we can’t hire back our staff or commence operations,” said Anderson.
Federal funding for the program is in. But RurAL CAP doesn’t have any state money for the PAT program because they have to re-apply for state funding. The state hasn’t released the application materials yet. Anderson says he doesn’t know when they plan to do so.
Haines resident Kim Phillips is one of the staff that’s waiting to resume her job.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to work and seeing the kids and families again,” she said.
Phillips has worked for the PAT Program as a home visitor and supervisors for over a decade. She meets with families twice monthly from pregnancy until the child is three years old.
“When I visit families, I build on strengths. That’s what I love about my job is just that every family has strengths and people really need to hear what they’re doing right,” said Phillips.
Her work serves twenty local children. She says she brings activities for families to do together on her house visits. She says the kids are always excited to see what she has for them in her backpack.
“They love it when I come because I’m there to concentrate on them for the time that I’m there,” she said.
RurAL CAP and home visitors like Philips are waiting on the state so they can get back to work.