Seaton Bill Aims to Help Pre-K Providers

Ariel Van Cleave

     State Representative Paul Seaton has introduced an amendment to the education funding measure making its way through the Alaska Statehouse. It would provide tax credits for non-profit programs that offer pre-K education options.

     During a recent House Education Committee hearing, Seaton explained the point of his amendment to House Bill 278 is to try to look outside of state programs and state dollars to develop more early childhood education opportunities.

     “We’ve all recognized that early childhood education is one of the best bangs for the buck. We’ve also recognized that in our pilot preschool education program, we haven’t been able to put as much money as we wanted into that. We are looking at a time of reduced state budgets and somehow we need to be able to incentivize business community to help with early childhood education in their local communities,” he said.

     His proposed tax credit would only be for non-profit programs like Imagination Library, Sprout or Best Beginnings. But he said it also could affect school-district and state-run programs. This would be another targeted type of tax credit, which is similar to those already given for the creation of vocational education and training. 

     Seaton said providing a tax incentive could show the state wants to put more emphasis on the importance of pre-K education. And he tried to clarify his point to the committee members: If an early childhood education program was run purely through donations and held inside a church that fits the bill. If ConocoPhillips has a preschool program in place for their employees, they could not get a tax credit from the state. Representative Lora Reinbold wasn’t satisfied with that.

     “A lot of parents are working at their corporation, whatever corporation it is… a lot of times parents want to be as close as they can. If they’re working, why in the world would we not want to give them some sort of encouragement to have a facility close to the parents and give them a tax credit?”

     Seaton mentioned he considered that situation to be a conflict of interest. He said he doesn’t want to offer a credit to companies for providing programs for themselves. But Reinbold disagreed and said she sees no conflict. 

     But Representative Harriet Drummond said there’s already a federal credit on the books for that kind of care.

     “The IRS provides a tax credit of up to one-third of the costs of your childcare,” she said.

     There were also questions about what separates childcare from an early education program to make sure the credit is applied correctly if it’s approved. 

     “If we’re going to be giving tax credits to things, I was wondering if there might be something in place so that you know that the contribution is going to an educational program as opposed to a babysitting kind of program,” said Representative Gabrielle LeDoux.

     Seaton pointed out many childcare providers are actually businesses and would not be eligible in the first place. House Education Committee Chair Lynn Gattis said she wanted more specifics about what the state’s education department requires from a licensed preschool.

     Education and Early Development Commissioner Mike Hanley was in the audience during the meeting, but did not have the details on hand. Gattis requested a delay for adding the amendment to the bill in order to wait for more information. Seaton agreed and said he hoped to hear more public comment about the proposal during the next round of discussions.