Members of Alaska’s child care task force raise concerns about staffing, cost and licensing issues

A woman sits on the floor with a toddler in her lap and four more toddlers jumping up and down around her.
Childcare provider Ariél Pino sings “Five Little Monkeys” with a group of toddlers at Little Bears Early Learning Center in Girdwood on June 1, 2023. (Dev Hardikar/Alaska Public Media)

Operators of Alaska child care centers say they are having trouble finding staff to meet high demand. That includes operators on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where staffing constraints mean centers on base are able to serve just under 400 children — a fraction of their capacity.

“So that’s 50% of our capacity being met,” said Heather Weafer, flight chief for child and youth programs at JBER in Anchorage. “And we have 266 military members that are on the waitlist, and 30 of them are single and active duty military members.”

Weafer was one of several people who presented challenges Wednesday during the second meeting of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s child care task force. Dunleavy formed the group earlier this year to come up with a plan to improve access and affordability of child care in the state.

Weafer represents the perspective of military child care facilities on the task force. Another member, Jenny Taylor, works for the Bunnell House in Fairbanks, a child care center partnered with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She said she’s concerned about how much families must pay for child care. While the university helps pick up some of the operation costs, Taylor said, families are having trouble qualifying for help from the state. 

“I currently don’t have any families that qualify for child care assistance,” Taylor said. “I do have one that qualifies for their tribal child care assistance. But that’s really different from the state child care assistance program.”

State officials heard from tribal child care representatives as well. 

Bridie Trainor is child care program director for Kawerak, a tribal nonprofit based in Nome. She said there are very few licensed providers in the region and the state could do more to help tribes.

“We’ve demonstrated the need for tribes to have the ability to license themselves,” Trainor said. “I’m really hoping that the state will create new regulation to defer to tribal standards, giving us access as well to those state funds.”

State Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg said the task force’s initial meetings were aimed at providing a broad view of child care across the state. She said the next two meetings, held every two weeks, will focus on background checks and licensing issues. 

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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