Alaska child care providers, struggling to make ends meet, hope that changes to a grant program will provide them with more money.
They are seeking changes to a state child care grant for wages, training, supplies and building upgrades.
Juneau Montessori School, which serves about 55 children ranging from toddlers to 6-year-olds, raises about $70,000 a year to close the gap between expenses and what it can expect parents to pay, said director Lupita Alvarez.
Last year's $14,000 child care grant, used for salaries, covered about 5 percent of school costs. Even with that help, the school offers no health insurance, and its teachers make about half what a public preschool teacher earns, Alvarez said.
The average hourly wage of teachers and caregivers working with preschool-age children in Alaska is $9.13 an hour, according to the Association for the Education of Young Children Southeast Alaska.
Fewer than one-third of the child care programs offer health insurance, the association said.
Child care providers want the Legislature to remove the grant's cap of $50 per child per month, streamline the range of funding levels, and pay providers based on the number of children enrolled, rather than the days they're in attendance.
A provider's costs are the same even if a few children are ill, Alvarez said.
This fiscal year, the total child care grant of $2.42 million went to about 500 providers, said Mary Lorence, who manages child care programs for the state Department of Health and Social Services.
"The purpose of the program is to give child care providers, who typically are struggling to make ends meet, incentives to improve the quality of the child care they offer," Lorence said.
The grant program comes from a pot of federal funds the state can use for a variety of programs to improve the quality of child care, Lorence said.
"We're hoping that if the cap is lifted, it would give the Department of Health and Social Services more flexibility in determining where the money will go, so we'll get more money for this particular program," Alvarez said.
But Lorence said that adding to the grant program would only take away money from other child care programs.
As it is, providers in only a few localities get the $50 rate. Juneau and Hoonah providers are funded at $30.15. There isn't enough money to pay everyone the $50 rate.
Several child care center operators met last week in Juneau with Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Linda Sylvester, a staffer for Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau.