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Juneau lacks child care for 3 out of 4 kids

Posted: May 17, 2012 - 12:09am

In an attempt to fund Juneau’s Hiring, Educating and Retaining Teaching Staff, or HEARTS, initiative, proponents presented a petition with 300 signatures to the Assembly on Monday.

“The City and Borough of Juneau has recognized that there is a critical child care shortage in our community, and that a lack of quality child care makes Juneau a less than attractive place for young families,” according to an Aug. 2011 report from the Juneau Economic Development Council. The HEARTS initiative would incentivize an increase in licensed childcare.

HEARTS is expected to cost $143,021 per year, or about $60 per child.

Juneau has licensed childcare for only one in four of its children, Joy Lyon, executive director for the Association for the Education of Young Children of Southeast Alaska said. Funding the initiative, Lyon said, will increase the number of child care spaces and decrease turnover rate in child care providers.

Child care providers have turnover rate of 65 percent in Juneau, Lyon said. Statewide turnover is around 40 percent. Funding HEARTS can “really transform the educational experience in their early years,” Lyon said, “so children can enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed.”

Samantha Adams is a mother and owner of a child care business. She testified to the Assembly in favor of funding HEARTS.

“Basically I need five full-time staff,” Adams said. But she said she has had difficultly retaining staff. Pay, she said, is a big problem.

“I’ve had people with masters’ degrees, I’ve had teachers applying for this position,” Adams said. However, “passion doesn’t pay the bills. I can’t afford to pay them what they are worth.”

Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, said Juneau lacks licensed childcare.

“It’s a serious problem in Juneau,” Holst said.

Holst called child care “an unattractive industry” with long hours, low pay and little incentive. Child care businesses are low-profit operations with short life spans, he said.

“There is a high turn over in staffing and in the businesses themselves,” Holst said.

Juneau’s high cost of living results in more families with two income earners, making Juneau less attractive without childcare, he said.

Increased and improved child care also has an impact on the state’s bottom line.

“The return on investment in child care is really high,” Holst said. Estimates range from a $2 to $60 return on every dollar invested, he said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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