Dunleavy agrees to fully restore $9M in funding to Head Start, early learning programs

Governor Dunleavy announces that he will fully restore funding to early learning for this fiscal year. He made the announcement at a classroom at RurAL CAP Child Development Center in Anchorage (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Governor Mike Dunleavy this morning agreed to fully restore funds to early learning in the state.

The restoration totals about $9 million and includes $6.8 million to Head Start and $1.2 million to early childhood grants. It’s one of several veto reversals the governor has made this week. Dunleavy said at a press conference that the reversal was a result of advocacy from Alaskans.

“What became pretty clear, I think to everybody, is that Alaskans value our elders, our seniors, and we value our children, our youngest. And that’s our future,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy says the state has a large deficit to overcome and maintains that his vetoes were a way to “start a conversation” about what Alaskans value. He says he doesn’t anticipate vetoing early learning funding in the future.

“My hope is that we wouldn’t go this route in terms of Head Start and our senior programs. I don’t know what the budget is going to be next year,” Dunleavy said. “If oil drops to $30 a barrel, we’re going to all have a different conversation, but I want to — no pun intended — I want to get a head start on the budget this year in the fall with the legislators.”

Patrick Anderson is CEO of Rural Alaska CAP, a nonprofit that operates Head Start programs throughout the state. He says he’s happy the governor reversed his veto, but uncertainty around funding has already caused employees to leave.

“Words have impact. We need to have the conversations beforehand so that we don’t experience these kinds of changes,” Anderson said. “Our staff, we have regular turnover. I’m not sure how much of [employees leaving] is regular turnover, but the expression was that the uncertainty was a little bit much for them.”

Head Start’s reach extends from Anchorage out to many rural communities such as Chevak, Napaskiak and Hooper Bay.