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PUBLISHED: 2:42 PM on Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Preparation earns Alaska mixed grades
Lack of state funding hurts potential success
Alaska is near the middle of the nation when it comes to preparing its children for a successful career, according to a study released earlier this month by Education Week magazine. The Quality Counts study ranks Alaska 29th in giving its children the best chance for success as educated, wage-earning adults. At the top of the list were Virginia and Connecticut; Louisiana and New Mexico ranked at the bottom.

"From Cradle to Career: Connecting American Education from Birth Through Adulthood," looked at 13 indicators, such as parent education, family income, preschool enrollment, reading and math scores and high school graduation rates, and scored each of the 50 states on its educational services from early childhood through the post-secondary years.

A key observation was that the state a child calls home has a significant impact on his or her likelihood of success in life. The study highlights the pivotal role of education throughout an individual's lifetime and the importance of linking all facets of education to one another. In other words, what a child learns in pre-school should support lesson plans in elementary school, which should in turn support later education. States that placed at the top of the ranking have strong early-childhood, kindergarten through twelfth grade and post-secondary programs.

In the national study, Alaska showed poorly when it comes to early-childhood education. In particular, the state has no policy for funding education for three and four-year-olds.

It puts no money into pre-school education, according to the study.

In comparison, top ranked Connecticut spent $6,663 per child in the 2004-05 school year.

A group of Juneau educators and childcare experts have been presenting findings from a recently commissioned study on the importance of early childhood development to the state's economy.

Earlier this month they held presentations for state legislators and city assembly members and for members of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

"Alaska is one of only 10 states in the country that does not have a state-funded program of early care and education, and we'd like that to change," said Carol Prentice, program manager of the University of Alaska Southeast's System for Early Education Development and one of the presenters.

SEED funded an early childhood education economic impact report titled "Step up Early ed and Child Care."

It focuses on care and learning for children under age six and connects child care services for that age group to significant economic factors including employment, and spending in Alaska.

In results released in July, the study found that 87 percent of Alaskans said it's important or very important for state government to support funding of early education and childcare. The study also found that the sector accounts for at least 6,500 jobs statewide, and that's about the same number as total employees in the state's transportation sector.

Alaskan families spend about $150 million annually on care and education for pre-schoolers.

Economist Jim Calvin of the McDowell Group of Juneau conducted the study and found some of its results surprising.

For instance, many Alaskans limit their careers or workforce participation due to concerns about quality, cost or availability of care for their young children.

"If one third of all households with children under six are still having trouble finding the kind of care they'd like for their children, there's plenty of room for improvement," he said at a recent presentation on the study.

Calvin said quality of early education and child care is one of the most important social issues facing Alaska today.

Of those urban Alaskans who said they had trouble finding services for their children, they cited cost as the biggest problem.

The Association for the Education of Young Children in Southeast Alaska estimates a year of child care in Juneau is about $6,700 dollars, compared to $3,500 for a year's tuition at state college.

Juneau has just shy of 200 early care and learning providers including centers, group and licensed home care. Most, according to AEYC-SEA, have some vacancy.

In contrast, the study said that in rural areas, about half of Alaskans looking for childcare services had trouble finding them.

Results of the study are available at http://seed.alaska.edu.


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