Alaska scrambles to spend nearly $ 100 million in federal child care assistance as centers close

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Through Claire Stremple, KTOO

Updated: 42 minutes ago Posted: 42 minutes ago

This article first appeared on KTOO.org and is republished here with permission.

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JUNEAU – The first set of checks are mailed to help child care centers across Alaska. They represent just 5% of the nearly $ 100 million in federal COVID relief funding the state has to stabilize its child care system.

Meanwhile, health centers say they need more – and it can’t come soon enough.

Amanda Gornik is the director of the Gold Creek Child Development Center, a preschool and daycare center in downtown Juneau. Desks in an empty classroom hit his shins. There may be up to 20 students in these small desks, but there are currently only six.

Gornik is currently operating the center at less than half of its capacity, which represents a significant financial cost to the company. Only 29 students are enrolled throughout the center, despite strong demand.

“I have 125 children on our waiting list,” she said. She has room for more students, but she doesn’t have the staff to support them, so she can’t offer any places.

Gornik is trying to hire more teachers. She offers a signing bonus of $ 1,000 once they have completed three months of work. She has 11 teachers and she would like about three more. But things are going in the wrong direction. Two teachers have given notice since Gornik started running the center two months ago.

“COVID is stressing our staff. Since we don’t have that many here, they are overworked. We have a lot of teachers working overtime, ”she said. “The stress is sometimes not worth it for them. And so they leave. And it’s devastating for all of us.

COVID-19 is testing a system that was already in trouble. Almost a fifth of the state’s licensed child care centers have closed since March 2020, according to its office of the child care program.

Relief money is on its way. The state received about $ 95 million from the federal government this spring to address the child care crisis. It is difficult to find the best way to distribute the money as the advice from the federal government arrives. So far, the state has drafted a grant program to distribute just $ 5 million statewide.

“We hear that vendors are concerned that there is not enough funding initially distributed and that the schedule is taking too long,” said Shawnda O’Brien, director of the State Assistance Division, the office responsible for distributing funds to daycares.

O’Brian’s staff are treading cautiously as the federal millions are a one-time payment. They want to have a lasting impact with a limited source of funding.

The typical budget to run Alaska’s child care programs is around $ 28 million. Federal relief quadruples it.

So even though she and her staff just got the bargain of their dreams, they say it’s a challenge to spend it well.

Meanwhile, health centers are suffering. Juneau Kindergarten in Gornik has requested $ 6,800 from the state and is likely to get it. The state grants all claims up to $ 11,000 from eligible centers. Gornik plans to spend it on bonuses for its current teachers and signing bonuses to attract new ones.

She says the money won’t go very far.

“We’ll take whatever we can get. And I am fortunate to use that to advance our recruiting process, ”said Gornik.

The state aims to have a plan for the remaining $ 90 million in federal funds by the end of the year. Applications for the next round of funding are expected to be available between January and March.


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