A program that gives free books to young children is halting new enrollment due to funding uncertainty. The Homer Imagination Library mails a new book every month to children up to five-years-old in the Homer area.
Jill Lush is the executive director of Sprout Family Services, which helps administer and support the program. She said there are roughly 400 kids currently enrolled.
“We have stopped signing new children up and our hope is that we can keep moving forward with the families that are already enrolled in the program so that their children can have a 60-book library by the time they go into kindergarten,” she said.
This service is part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s an international program that helps subsidize local affiliates.
Best Beginnings, an early childhood literacy organization in Alaska, also helps fund and support Homer’s Imagination Library. Gov. Mike Dunleavy eliminated funding for Best Beginnings, but the Legislature later restored it. Still, it’s unclear if Dunleavy will cut the funds again.
If that happens, Lush said the temporary halt on new enrollment will likely become permanent.
“We'll have to subsidize the $10,000 that we need a year for that program to have equal access to any kid that wants to sign up,” she said. “It will be 100% donor dollars and we’ve only been able to raise about half of that every year locally. So we might be going from 400 kids enrolled to 200 kids enrolled.”
Right now, she said they are putting families on waitlists and waiting to see what happens to the budget. She said if state funding is eliminated, it could mean a big loss to some area children.
“Having access to language and books in your home has long-term impacts that are studied and well established about being able to see words in your home and being able to be with your parents or your caregivers as they're reading to you,” she said.
According to Best Beginnings, there are nearly thirty imagination libraries statewide.