$600,000 is on the table to help start new pre-kindergarten programs across the state -- unless the legislature decides otherwise.
One budget item that survived Governor Bill Walker’s veto pen last month is $2 million for pre-kindergarten programs. That’s a pot of money that’s been granted to a handful of Alaska school districts each year since 2009. Now, $600,000 of that pot is available to help start new programs for four-year-olds.
The bulk of the $2 million will still go to five districts this year – the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Nome, Lower Kuskokwim and Yukon-Koyukuk school districts are renewing their grants, and will receive up to $400,000 each to maintain their existing pre-K programs. The remaining funds will be divvied up among new applicants.
“We had money left over to offer $600,000 dollars in competitive grants for districts that are looking to do either planning for a pre-elementary program, or beginning to implement a pilot program with a small amount of funds, or looking to support four-year-olds that are currently being supported in existing programs,” said Anji Gallanos, early learning administrator for the Department of Education and Early Development.
These one-year planning grants will be up to $100,000 each.
The $2 million allocated to the program could still vanish if the legislature decides to override the Governor’s vetoes during the new special session. That uncertainty motivates the department to stretch these dollars as far as they can possibly go.
Gallanos says DEED is encouraging the five districts with existing programs to look for more sustainable sources of funding over the next few years, to eventually wean off of state dollars. Meanwhile, other districts will get state grants to start new programs. And so the cycle will go, Gallanos says, hopefully reaching more and more kids.
“We really have to point out that we’re making progress,” Gallanos said. “And I don't know that it's necessarily progress that a district is going to look for other funds, but we do have to rely on other partnerships and resources. Because there isn’t gonna be a big magic pot of money that I can see in Alaska’s near future -- unless federal grants come out -- that’s just going to wave a magic wand and say, everybody gets preschool!”
“So we really have to be creative in the way that we do it,” Gallanos added. “And I believe we’re getting there.”
The department will release their request for applications this Friday. Applications are due August 5th, and grants will be awarded in mid-August.
There’s an online informational meeting for districts and their partners this Friday, July 15, at 3 p.m.
Editor's Note: the original version of this story mistakenly included mention of a "Yukon Kuskokwim" School District. It has been corrected to Yukon-Koyukuk School District.