The State of Alaska faces a $1.5 billion deficit, which it has experienced for the past 10 years. Savings have dropped from $22 billion to a few hundred million, and services have been pared accordingly. Key to the deficit has been a decline in oil revenue — oil revenue paid for nearly 90% of Alaska’s budget until 10 years ago. Declines in oil values and production levels with no broad-based tax in place to ensure a steady stream of revenue, has led to challenging budgets.
The 2021 legislative session, like many of the past sessions, was focused on the budget and Alaska’s annual Permanent Dividend Check (PFD). The PFD has been reduced to help cover the cost of government, and Alaskans — who in the past received $3,000 per person — now receive $1,100. The budget and PFD debates have left little room for other important discussions, including those on the needs of Alaska’s children and families.
In spite of the challenging 2021 legislative environment, Alaska allies made progress in several areas:
- Ensured continuation of current investments of early childhood as Alaska made further cuts to the budget due to the $1.5B deficit.
- Prevented any budget cuts to the education budget which protected K-3rd grade.
- Prevented a split of the state’s Department of Health & Social Services into two divisions. The Governor made the proposal in an executive order, which the legislature must approve, deny, or simply allow to stand without action. (Changing the legislation is prohibited.) Alaska Children’s Trust, in partnership with DHSS, hosted community forums across Alaska to hear organizations’ concerns. This led to the legislation being pulled.
Influencing Federal Funds
Advocates in Alaska helped to ensure federal relief funds were utilized to meet the needs and demands of the child care field. This included ensuring providers and others received funding to keep their doors open, purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies, increase salaries, offer training, and build capacity to assist providers in moving up in the QRIS process.
Sustained Advocacy Campaigns
Advocates will continue to try to pass a key priority: the Pre-K Program and Reading Act in 2022. They are working with the house majority to move the Act and have the two bills (SB 111 and HB 164) meet in conference and become approved in 2022.
Advocates also continue to build momentum in legislature to include mental health in the overall health curriculum for K-12.