With Budget Recommendations, Early Education Programs On Chopping Block

Lawmakers are targeting a number of early education programs for cuts. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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Pre-kindergarten grants, Parents as Teachers, Best Beginnings — all of these early learning programs were zeroed out in the budget recommendations offered by a House education subcommittee on Tuesday night.

“I looked at our Constitution, and I looked at what we are constitutionally mandated to do,” says Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Wasilla Republican who chairs the subcommittee.

Gattis says with the state facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, her prerogative was to make cuts to newer programs, programs that had not been fully funded in the past, and programs that did not meet the standard of “essential.” More than $12 million was cut from the Department of Education’s budget. But the base student allocation — the funding that is divvied out to schools based on their enrollment numbers — was not touched.

“My goal was to keep the classrooms whole,” says Gattis. “So, in order to do that, let’s not reach into the BSA, let’s not go there. So what are your choices to make your numbers?”

On top of cuts to early education, the subcommittee eliminated funding for a literacy program and a library technology program. They also slashed $5 million meant to expand broadband internet access to the state’s school.

The cuts are perennially controversial. Early education programs in particular have been a traditional political football. Conservative Republicans have targeted them for cuts, arguing that they compete with private sector daycare and may duplicate federal education programs; Democrats have sought to expand pre-kindergarten learning programs, especially for low-income children.

Rep. Sam Kito III, a Juneau Democrat on the subcommittee, opposes the early education cuts.

“I’m concerned that if we take funding away from our younger kids, then we’re actually going to see a decrease in graduation rates in the future.”

Kito also has concerns with how the cuts were advanced. While Kito expressed opposition to some cuts during the subcommittee hearing, he was not allowed to offer any amendments to the proposal during that meeting.

“Denying the amendments denies our ability to comment and hear from the department,” says Kito. “So, we have less of an ability to make our voices heard.”

Amendments were allowed to be filed in advance through Friday, but Kito says the subcommittee was only given full budget information two hours before the deadline, which did not allow members to review the impact of cuts or draft changes. The process bothered Kito enough that he stood up in the House chambers on Wednesday to air complaints before the whole body.

Gattis stands by her approach. She notes that Kito’s colleagues in the House Democratic minority will have the ability to fight the cuts later. She also believes that committee members had sufficient time to offer changes, and that keeping meetings from running long matters when the House is in the middle of the budget drafting process.

“Making amendments on the fly — voting for those becomes a very repetitious type thing,” says Gattis.

The education recommendations will now be sent to the House Finance Committee. In better budget years, some funding for early education programs has been restored at that stage.

agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra

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