Alaska Voices: Investment in public preschool reaps high returns for our children and our economy

Alaska can make that has a projected 7-10% per year return on investment.

  • By SARAH SLEDGE, NORM WOOTEN, DR. LISA SKILES PARADY
  • Wednesday, April 3, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

During a time of fiscal uncertainty, our organizations would like to highlight an investment Alaska can make that has a projected 7-10% per year return on investment. The long-term impacts of this investment are great enough that it is one of the best we can make. What is it? Investment in public preschool.

For years, a significant amount of research has accumulated that demonstrates the critical benefits of quality pre-elementary programs. These include a reduction in the need for special education and remediation, reduced rates of grade retention, higher school achievement, and increased rates of high school graduation. One of the most important questions we should be asking is not “should we be funding pre-elementary programs in Alaska?” but rather, how can we get our quality pre-elementary programs to more of our children?

In his recent budget proposal, Gov. Mike Dunleavy eliminated all funding for our pre-K programs. If this budget were to pass, Alaska would join only seven other states in the country that offer no public preschool program. At a time when we are focused on how to improve education outcomes for all Alaska children, eliminating public preschool seems misguided at best. We must retain funding for our pre-K programs.

The people of Alaska agree. In a recent survey conducted by a coalition of education advocacy groups called “The Great Work of Alaska’s Public Schools,” 74% of Alaskans polled say they support state-funded public pre-school. You can find a link to survey results at http://www.alaskaacsa.org/new-survey/.

The most recent data from Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development shows that nearly 70% of our current-year kindergarten students were not able to meet developmental goals that would be considered age appropriate for kindergarten entry, yet only about 10% of Alaska’s 4-year olds are enrolled in our state-funded public preschool programs. We must ensure access to high-quality preschool programs to more of our children.

When students arrive at kindergarten several years behind their same-age peers in academic readiness, schools are asked to help them make up years of academic progress during a single school year. Frequently, these students are unable ever to catch up. High-quality early childhood education is particularly important to meet the needs of students in chronically struggling schools and districts. Access to these programs can help close achievement gaps, putting students on a more successful school trajectory. We support Senate Bill 6, which would expand pre-K to our highest-need school districts, and eventually throughout the state.

National long-term studies demonstrate that investment in the developmental growth of at-risk children is one of the most effective strategies for economic growth, even during a budget crisis. High-quality preschool has been shown to have long-term impacts on socioeconomic, behavioral and health conditions including employment, better health outcomes, reduced need for social services, lower criminal justice costs, and increased self-sufficiency and productivity among families.

Eliminating our public preschool programs would move us in the wrong direction and demonstrates a lack of vision for Alaska. Let’s sustain our preschool programs and seek opportunities such as Senate Bill 6 to expand access to preschool for our highest-need students. Investing in Alaska’s preschool programs is one of the most critical investments we can make in the future success of our children and our state.

Sarah Sledge is the executive director of the Coalition for Education Equity. Norm Wooten is executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards. Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady is executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators.

More in Opinion

The Alaska Capitol on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Alaska Voices: Legislature deserves credit

A special session shouldn’t have been necessary, but at least it was only one day instead of 30 days.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Alaska Voices: Please be safe, courteous, and legal as you fish in Alaska this summer

As you head out to hit the water this year, here are a few tips to help you have a safe and citation free season

An observer makes an entry in the Fish Map App on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo by Lee House/courtesy Salmon State)
Alaska Voices: Document Alaska rivers with new fish map app

The app provides a way for everyday Alaskans to document rivers home to wild salmon, whitefish, eulachon and other ocean-going fish — and earn money doing it

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Sustainability report is a greenwashing effort

Report leaves out “the not-so-pretty.”

Pictured is an adult Chinook salmon swimming in Ship Creek, Anchorage. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Voices of the Peninsula: Proactive measures key to king salmon recovery

I have been sport fishing king salmon along the eastern shores of Cook Inlet and in the Kenai River since 1977

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day

As we honor the men and women who fell in service to our nation, we must keep their memories alive through their stories

Shana Loshbaugh (Courtesy photo)
History conference seeking input from peninsula people

The Alaska Historical Society will hold its annual conference on the central peninsula this fall

Coach Dan Gensel (left) prepares to get his ear pierced to celebrate Soldotna High School’s first team-sport state championship on Friday, Febr. 12, 1993 in Soldotna, Alaska. Gensel, who led the Soldotna High School girls basketball team to victory, had promised his team earlier in the season that he would get his ear pierced if they won the state title. (Rusty Swan/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering my friend, Dan Gensel

It’s a friendship that’s both fixed in time and eternal

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The false gods in America’s gun culture

HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland
Reflecting on a year of growth and resilience

A message from the superintendent

Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. (Courtesy photo/Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Honoring the 69 peace officers who have died serving Alaskans

Alaska Peace Officer Memorial Day honors the brave men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty

Rep. Maxine Dibert (Image via Alaska State Legislature)
Opinion: The economic case for a significant investment in education

As our oil production and related revenue have declined, our investments in education have remained flat