State funding for early education restored, but services this year could still be affected

Amber Frommherz, director of Tlingit & Haida’s Head Start program, pictured in one of five Juneau Head Start classrooms on July 24, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy agreed Tuesday to restore funding for early education in Alaska. But educators in Juneau say that even with funding back in place, services this year could be affected.

In June, the governor vetoed nearly $9 million for Head Start and early learning programs from the state operating budget.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which operates 15 Head Start classrooms around Southeast, planned to respond to those cuts by closing three classrooms and discontinuing bus services.

Tlingit and Haida Head Start director Amber Frommherz said the funding reversal is good news — but it’s not yet certain if all services will be restored.

“Plans have been put in place that it’s hard to walk back from, because this was such a disruption,” she said.

Frommherz said she and her staff are working to open all classrooms in September, but it will be a scramble. Reinstating bus services will be a particular challenge, she said, because they’ve already gotten out of their contracts.

Juneau School District had hoped to add preschool classrooms this year. But with the start of the school year just around the corner, superintendent Bridget Weiss said that’s off the table for now.

“It’s very disruptive to the system to try to do that and find a teacher and move forward right now with expanding a classroom,” Weiss said.

But if it’s too late to add an entire preschool classroom, Weiss said the restored state funding gives the district more room to expand services in other ways. That could include more full-day and after-school preschool programs. Weiss said those changes could happen this school year.

The first day of preschool at Juneau schools is Aug. 27. Tlingit and Haida Head Start classrooms will open in early September.