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Preschool Pays Off for Kids, Public: House Democrats Show How

Preschool is a proven investment; Alaska can do better for our kids

JUNEAU - Representatives Les Gara and Chris Tuck (both D-Anchorage), and Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) made the case for increasing early childhood development efforts in Alaska. The representatives highlighted the economic returns of preschool education to Alaskan children, their families, and to the state as a whole, and they offered specific solutions for how Alaska can start realizing those benefits.

"Early education is an extremely wise investment," said Rep. Kawasaki. "The public economics cannot be understated."

The representatives pointed to multiple studies that show children who go to preschool make more money and save the public money throughout their lives. Preschool attendees do better in school, get better jobs, depend less on public support, and commit fewer crimes than those without early childhood educational opportunities.

"We know [early education] works, the business community knows it works. If you're looking to find a way to provide more jobs, with higher incomes and lower jail rates, this is the way to do it," said Rep. Gara.

The representatives presented a variety of complementary proposals to meet Alaska's unique early education needs. Rep. Kawasaki's HB 154 would have the state devise an education plan for three and four-year-olds with the goal of creating optional, effective and cost-efficient solutions that work with existing early development programs like Head Start.

Rep Tuck has re-introduced his Parents as Teachers initiative which passed the House last session on a 32-5 vote but ran out of time in the Senate. The program, already active in 47 Alaska communities, teaches parents about how their children learn during the critical developmental stages between birth and age five.

"These programs really are about economic efficiency," said Rep. Tuck. "All the data confirms what we already know, bang for the buck pre-K is the best investment we can make for the state of Alaska."

Rep. Gara is working through the budget process to ensure that Alaska's fledgling efforts in early childhood development get the support they need. Alaska has a limited preschool pilot program in its third year and contributes to the federal Head Start program in Alaska. Alaska is one of less than a dozen states without a permanent statewide preschool program.

Read a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, "Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return."

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