How Preschool Works in Alaska

A 3-minute guide to preschool and child care in Alaska. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: Alaska provides little information about how to locate high-quality child care in the state, and what information is provided is difficult to access. Details concerning the differences between options are limited to caregiver-to-child ratios and the total number of children allowed on the premises. There do not appear to be guidelines concerning curricula or best practices, and licensing requirements are minimal, though the municipality of Anchorage offers slightly more guidance and transparency.

Overview

Alaska accommodates several options for licensed and unlicensed care: licensed providers approved by the Department of Health and Social Services or the Municipality of Anchorage; approved providers that are exempt from licensure and are allowed to provide care for children whose families receive financial assistance; facilities approved by the Department of Defense or the United States Coast Guard; facilities that are tribal-approved, a designation indicating that they meet or exceed the standards set by the Department of Health and Social Services; and legally exempt care, a designation indicating that providers are ineligible for child care assistance. In the last case, no more than four children may be present. Alaska’s database can be searched based upon location, provider information, licensure, and address, though access to the database is unreliable. That said, thread, a statewide nonprofit organization, provides referrals to child care programs and supports both parents and educators with information and resources.

The requirements for administrators of center-based and home-based care differ slightly, though all must have an understanding of childhood development, be able to care for children, and possess interpersonal skills. Licensure requires background checks, permits from the Department of Commerce and the Department of Environmental Conservation, inspection and approval by the local or state fire marshal, adherence to municipal ordinances, and approval from the Department of of Public Health, as well as an initial onsite inspection. Anchorage provides a basic guide to help parents understand the requirements of licensed care in their municipalities.

Information regarding pre-K in Alaska is somewhat difficult to locate, as the state is in the process of developing and implementing a voluntary statewide pre-K program. At present, most pre-K programs are integrated within elementary schools. In 2009, the state established a six-district pilot program that met with widespread success. It has since transitioned from pilot status to allow programs to reapply for competitive funding. Funding has steadily decreased since the program’s inception, however.

Center-Based Care

Centered-based operations in Alaska provide care for 13 or more children; the number of hours that centers are required to operate is not specified. In order to be licensed, however, administrators must be at least 21 years old and have taken a minimum of 12 semester–hours of college credit in early childhood development or related fields, received accredited Montessori certification, or hold a current Child Development Associate credential from the Council of Early Childhood Professional Recognition. Centers must observe the following caregiver-to-child ratios: 1:5 for infants (birth through 18 months); 1:6 for toddlers (19 to 36 months); 1:10 for preschool-aged children (3 and 4 years old); and 1:14 for kindergarten-aged children (5 and 6 years old). Ratios differ within the Municipality of Anchorage, where centers can provide care for 9 or more children: 1:4 for infants (6 weeks through 11 months); 1:5 toddlers (12 through 18 months); 1:6 older toddlers (19-35 months); 1:10 for children (3-12 years old). Additionally, in Anchorage, at least two adults must be on the premises at all times.

Home-Based Care

Home-based day cares are subject to the same standards and regulations as their center-based counterparts, with the only difference being the number of children who are allowed to be supervised by a single caregiver. In a licensed family care home, up to eight children are allowed; and in a licensed child care group home, nine to 12 children are permitted. While center-based care operations must be run by someone at least 21 years of age, home-based facilities only require someone 18 years of age. No more than three children under the age of 30 months may be in care, and no more than two who are not yet able to walk. If more than five children are being cared for, the fire marshal must grant specific approval. In licensed care group homes, administrators must be 21 years of age, and no more than 12 children under the age of 13 can be present. Two caregivers are required to be on the premises at all times. No more than five children under the age of 30 months may be in care, and no more than four who are not yet able to walk may be in care.

Unlicensed Care

There are several forms of unlicensed care in Alaska, though to be legal, all must be either approved by the state or tribal entities in order to serve families who receive financial assistance. Approved non-relative child care providers and approved relative child care providers may offer care in their own homes for no more than five children under 13 years of age, and no more than two children may be under the age of 30 months. Approved child care providers must have a license that was renewed within the previous year, while relative providers must renew their status every two years. In-home providers are able to provide care within the children’s own homes. Tribal-approved facilities must have evidence that they have meet or exceed the standards set by the Department of Health and Social Services. The city of Anchorage does not require providers to have licenses if they care for four or fewer children.

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