Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced a new task force Thursday to look at the availability and affordability of child care in Alaska.
He said access to affordable child care is crucial to the state’s economy and wellbeing. Across the state, the child care market has long been tight and expensive.
“It’s a real issue that needs to be looked at and scrutinized so that we can come up with some models that can help our folks, our families, our mothers,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy signed the administrative order establishing the task force Thursday afternoon at the Credit Union 1 learning center in Anchorage, an onsite child care facility for the bank’s employees.
The task force will be made up of state officials, plus representatives of tribal, nonprofit, military and other child care programs. There’s also a spot for an Alaska parent who has experience finding child care. State Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg said the goal is to improve the availability, affordability and quality of child care in Alaska.
“The task force will be looking at existing strategic plans, assessments, surveys,” Hedberg said. “They will also be listening to consumers, the parents who are trying to find that child care center close to home.”
She said the group will deliver an initial report with findings and recommendations to the governor by the end of the year, with a final report at the end of July 2024.
In the meantime, state lawmakers are also working to address the availability of child care options. Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, said one proposal would appropriate $15 million to support existing child care providers.
“1,700 childcare providers, earning on average around $14.50 per hour,” Fields said. “You could go get a job at Target tomorrow earning $20 an hour plus benefits. $15 million is enough to raise those wages, stabilize the labor force and stop hemorrhaging child care workers.”
Dunleavy opposes the injection of state money, calling it a “knee jerk reaction.”
“I’m not going to support $15 million in child care because we don’t even know what the child care is that we’re talking about,” Dunleavy said. “What does it look like? Is it focused on infants? Is it focused on toddlers? Is it focused on other age groups?”
Some child care advocates say that money is necessary.
Stephanie Berglund is CEO of thread, a child care advocacy group. She said money from COVID-19 relief that supported child care was effective in keeping the industry afloat, and similar state investments should continue.
“The sector is very fragile and needs additional support,” she said. “So we’re confident that child care needs more investment now, whether it’s this year or aligned with the policy recommendations that we’re hopeful for out of this task force. We know the dollars can’t come soon enough, and we encourage investment now.”
Both Berglund and Fields said they support the task force and hope it helps to inform legislation and government action to address Alaska’s child care shortage.
Other bills introduced in the Legislature linked to child care include one sponsored by Fields that would allow child care providers that receive state aid to collectively bargain with the state Department of Health. It’d also establish a child care provider fund. Another bill from Rep. Julie Coulombe, R-Anchorage, would expand the eligibility for state low-income child care assistance programs.
In Anchorage, a ballot proposition to use the city’s existing marijuana taxes to fund local child care initiatives is currently on the path to passing, with 57% of counted ballots in favor.