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Dunleavy Vetoes Strip All State Funds from Head Start

Facade of the Alaska State Capitol building, Juneau.
The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. Photo: Neal Jennings.

If Governor Mike Dunleavy’s line item vetoes to the state budget are not overridden by the Legislature, all state funding for the Head Start program will be eliminated. That means Kawerak’s regional Head Start program would be forced to make its own cuts.

The program serves a total of approximately 240 children in 11 communities in the Bering Strait region: Brevig Mission, Elim, Gambell, Golovin, Koyuk, Shishmaref, Shaktoolik, St. Michael, Teller, White Mountain, and Nome.

“It would be devastating if we had to close a center in a community.”

That’s Deb Trowbridge, Director of Head Start at Kawerak. She says that the program prioritizes serving the most vulnerable families first: like children in foster care or special education, and low-income families.

Along with educational services and, in some sites, childcare, the program provides social services by encouraging families to complete child wellness exams, immunizations, dental exams, and conducting hearing and vision screenings. It also supports families with referrals to other agencies and provides support for families by way of parent trainings and other social events.

Besides what is provided for enrolled families, Head Start provides about 80-plus jobs in the region. Trowbridge says she does not want to have to cut any of those positions.

“We’ve invested a lot of time, money, and energy into educating employees, and helping them meet the credentials they need. For them to lose their job will impact that community, too. Households are dependent on that income.”

Trowbridge says Kawerak does not have any final answers right now on what exactly would happen if the state no longer funds the program, but she does know that some cuts would be in order in the long run, if new funding is not secured. That could look like less salaried positions, cuts to the Nome bussing program, fewer site visits, or even possibly closing one of the 11 centers.

“All so that we can still pay the utilities and the rent and the insurance, and remaining positions… which is a majority of the overall budget, is salaries.”

The Governor dropped the Early Learning Coordination budget from $9,622,900 to $761,500. According to the budget with line item vetoes, the $6.8 million dollars that funds state grants to the Head Start program would be eliminated.

To explain the vetoes, the governor’s office states that: “This is non-statutorily required funding, and with the fiscal reality, this reduction is appropriate to maintain the department’s core mission and services, which first serves Alaskan school districts and K-12 students.”

According to the governor’s Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s cuts to things like early education stem from acknowledging the state’s “over a billion dollar” deficit.

“He ultimately had to make very difficult decisions. These decisions are based not on a desire to say that programs haven’t been meaningful, or haven’t had significant value in our communities in the past, or maybe in the future, but they’re made based on the understanding that we simply, at this time based on revenues, do not have adequate funding to provide a lot of these programs.”

Shuckerow says the governor’s proposed budget provides for full K-12 Base Student Allocation funding (BSA is used in a formula by Alaska school districts to determine a “Basic Need” in terms of funding) and transportation funding, but anything that was not deemed a “core service” or required by law or statute was scrapped.

Funding-wise, nothing is final until after Friday, the deadline for the Legislature to vote to override Dunleavy’s vetoes. That’s if the body can agree to join in the same location by the end of this week.

Image at top: The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. Photo: Neal Jennings.

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