In 2005, when my partner and I took the leap and launched Field Landscaping, I definitely didn’t think that child care would be a major issue for me or my business. At the time, I was 33 and most of our employees were in their mid-20s. We were excited about the opportunity to work outside and help homeowner’s create outdoor spaces they love. We were emboldened by the challenge of creating a great workplace where people would stay and help us grow the business.
Now, I’m 47 and have twin 5-year-old boys and a wonderful 8-year-old daughter. My 25 employees have kids, too — a total of 18 kids among all of us. It’s been amazing to see our families grow up with the business and gratifying that so many have chosen to stay with Field.
And, like for so many in our state, child care is a huge issue and constant topic of conversation. The child care years have been a struggle for my family. This year, my wife and I will pay $18,000 in child care to send our twins to our local St. Louis Park city program. The teachers are AMAZING! I feel incredibly lucky to have my kids learn, socialize and be protected by such amazing people.
We will also be forever grateful for my wife’s parents, who have been able to help with day care over many years of my kids’ lives. We have had so much help and it has still been hard. I have no idea how other people make it. That is a constant refrain I hear: “I don’t know how other people make it.” And many aren’t making it. The stories from so many around the state show how difficult it has become to build our families (and businesses) through this critical time in our children’s lives.
As a business owner, I see child care as a critical-level issue. I am sure it wasn’t in the ’60s and ’70s, when my parents had kids. But as our leaders have neglected to confront the runaway costs of both child care and health care, these are the major issues in all of our lives. The cost of child care and lack of quality options is limiting occupation options, whether talented people can afford to go into the workplace and whether people can choose to start their own business. As a major disruption, it limits career advancement as employees struggle to maintain continuity in their job.
I was lucky to go to Washington, D.C., earlier this year and represent Minnesota in a child care conference. I learned a lot about the challenges of the small businesses and organizations that run child care facilities, the low pay of child care providers, and the “child care deserts” where people can’t find any child care options. I also learned that success in kindergarten and first grade correlate to success all through school and that success in these grades highly correlates to how prepared our children are when they enter grade school. Quality early childhood education is truly a national imperative.
As a citizen, I am frustrated that, even though polls overwhelmingly show that child care availability and cost is a major crisis in both our urban and rural communities and that voters overwhelmingly want our leaders to attempt to find long-term solutions, little has been done.
That’s why I was heartened to see Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota House proposing to increase the state’s investment in child care. Currently, almost 2,000 families are languishing on the wait list for the state child care assistance program (CCAP) because policymakers haven’t funded it adequately. The governor and House’s budget would take more than half of those families off of the waiting list. While far short of a solution, it is a step in the right direction.
By contrast, the Minnesota Senate proposed to eliminate the Child Care Assistance Program. This not only harms 30,000 children and 15,000 families, but it hurts our state’s economic well-being and Minnesota businesses.
As a business owner, I understand that there will always be a next problem or challenge in my business. All my team and I can do is determine the two or three most critical issues and put our minds and hearts together to come up with solutions. I don’t know the best long-term solution to our child care crisis, but I do know that it is a top issue and our leaders should be working harder to come up with a solution.
The Minnesota Legislature should eliminate the waiting list for child care assistance, increase CCAP reimbursement rates to keep providers in business, and help address the child care shortage. Given what a strain child care is for so many of Minnesota’s people and small businesses, this is the least they can do this session.
Jason Rathe owns Field Outdoor Spaces Landscaping and is a board member of Main Street Alliance.