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Committee to begin hearing budget requests

Pre-kindergarten, other programs hang in the balance

Posted: Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Advocates of pre-kindergarten and other programs hope to win funding from the Alaska Legislature when the House Finance Committee begins to take testimony on the state budget today.

A subcommittee of the committee last week cut a $2 million pre-kindergarten pilot project which helped fund pre-kindergarten programs in six school districts around the state.

That provided successful pre-K programs for two Juneau elementary schools, Glacier View and Gastineau, said Laurie Scandling, assistant superintendent with the Juneau School District.

“We have some very promising, promising results at both sites,” she said. “These are kids who could most benefit.”

Federal stimulus money and the state pilot program grant pay for the programs, she said. Lost stimulus money will mean the loss of one of those sites, and if the Finance Committee cut remains both will be lost, she said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and House Democrats have advocated bringing pre-kindergarten programs to every school, but were only able to succeed in obtaining a three-year pilot program.

That’s the program Scandling said has developed data showing strong results for Juneau.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget requested continuation of the program, and included $2 million for the final year of the program.

Instead of expanding the program, however, Finance Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Tammy Wilson, R-North Pole, urged elimination of the program’s $2 million this year.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, had told the subcommittees they had the authority to cut money from the budgets, but not to add any money.

“The directions were to try to control the growth of government,” said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, supported the motion to cut the pre-kindergarten funding, but said she doesn’t oppose the program.

“I voted to support the chair of the committee, but my intention is to continue to work to see pre-K supported,” she said.

There are several bills in the works that address pre-kindergarten funding, something that Muñoz said she would like to see happen but didn’t known whether the state could afford.

“It’s a possibility, but it’s an expensive possibility,” she said.

It is not clear Alaska can afford that, she said.

“The state is facing difficult financial times as oil production goes down,” she said.

Muñoz said Education Commissioner Michael Manley has been asked to come back with ways to make the head start funds available to more kids, she said.

The House Finance Committee will hear testimony about school funding today. Members of Juneau’s education community will testify from 1:30 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. The public is also invited to testify during that time.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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