Several programs under the Early Learning Coordination component of the state’s 2020 budget are now facing cuts as part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 182 vetoes, which were announced Friday.
Abbe Hensley, executive director of Best Beginnings, stressed the organization would not be going away should the Legislature not override the veto but that it would change.
“It’s hard to tell exactly right now, but there certainly will be changes. It will be impactful,” Hensley said.
Currently, Best Beginnings has a budget of about $640,000. The veto eliminates $320,000.
Although Hensley said the organization has faced budget cuts before, the size of this cut is different.
“This would be even more impactful because of the fact that it’s half the budget and it would be very difficult, particularly in these days, to raise another $320,000 from the private sector,” she said.
The North Star Imagination Library, the Fairbanks affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, receives support from Best Beginnings. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a nonprofit organization that provides one book per month to children from birth to 5 years old when their parents sign up through a local Imagination Library.
“One of the values of having those in the home is there are plenty of research projects that show just having children’s books in the home makes a big difference in whether that child will become a good reader or not,” Hensley said.
There are about 19,000 children across the state enrolled in Imagination Library and, according to Hensley, with all of the state funding being cut, about 10,000 children would stop receiving books.
“I think that I would like to say that this is one of the most cost-efficient ways to ensure that children have opportunities with books and reading that many of them otherwise wouldn’t have,” she said.
Best Beginnings also sends out weekly newsletters to parents with activities they can do with their children, has translated activity guides from the Department of Education and Early Development into Yupik and Spanish and provides parental resources through their website.
Dunleavy vetoed the entire $6.8 million budget for Head Start grants. Head Start programs help children under 5 prepare for school by providing education, health services, social services and other resources to families.
Tanana Chiefs Conference Chairman Victor Joseph said the conference’s Head Start program uses state funding as a primary match for federal funds, which they could lose out on through the current cuts unless the Legislature overrides the veto.
“So bottom line is the $583,000 that we would be getting cut from the state side will impact all of our programs throughout our communities and it would have a really negative impact,” he said.
TCC offers home base Early Head Start models for children prenatal to 2 years old to 13 communities, including Tanacross and Minto, wherein someone goes to the child’s home and provides education to the whole family. They also offer center-based models to six communities, including Nenana and Fort Yukon, where a child goes to classroom for 3½ to seven hours.
Joseph addressed the grant vetoes as well as state education as a whole, saying he is encouraging everyone to complain to their legislators.
“If there isn’t a veto override I think we’re in bad shape as a state and our education system is going to be deeply impacted,” he said, “and we don’t even know the extent of that yet.”
Like TCC, Thrivalaska, a Head Start center in Fairbanks, uses state funding to receive matching federal funds, according to Sarah Newton, program director. She said the organization would be cut $440,000.
“The effect of losing that money is we lose our match for the federal funds,” Newton said. “We would lose 18 students and two staff at the bare minimum, and we serve 142 children and 18 of those are funded specifically through the state money.”
The program with Thrivalaska provides services for the entire Fairbanks North Star Borough and, according to Newton, the state funding pays for staff and parent training, classroom observations, wages and contracts with a nutrition specialist and mental health consultant.
“We develop an individualized learning plan for each child — family plans. We allow them to access special needs and mental health services, along with nutrition and health services,” she said.
Newton added that the program values education, play, relationships, resilience, best practices and diversity.
“The Head Start program is vital to our community, with the mental health issues that are occurring more and more. And because we focus on the whole family and not just the child, our services cannot go away,” Newton said.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510.