At Little Learners Center in Ada, Minnesota, owner Karen DeVos struggles with securing a permanent staff at her child care center. “It’s difficult finding a workforce who wants to stay in this field where it’s high stress, it’s a lot of work, it’s different every day. And while our wages are competitive, you can go to another job and earn something similar and not have to worry about taking your job home with you,” DeVos said.
DeVos was among a group of child care advocates who spoke last week during a virtual gathering organized by the Center for Rural Policy and Development. Child care providers discussed the various challenges they are facing with their businesses and organizations and called on elected officials and members of the public for help.
In 2020, some child care providers had to close down for many months due to COVID-19. Providers lost revenue, and while the state distributed grants and funds to help, advocates warn it is not enough to keep providers across the state afloat.
Child care providers say obstacles like staff shortages and lack of funding are important to address because the first three years of a child’s life are vital in their development. With the help of child care providers, children learn the cognitive and social skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives. However, the challenges they face can create barriers during those vital years of child development, providers say.
Several of the panelists also pointed out that child care providers contribute to the state’s economy, because without them, many Minnesota workers wouldn’t be able to work. Child care providers say it’s important for us to understand what these challenges are so that we can begin to address the issues and restore child care in Minnesota.
“We need to make this a priority and quit talking about it and make it happen. It’s time for Minnesota to be strong and pave the way. Let’s put our littlest people as a priority in this state,” said Sherry Tiegs, an in-home child care provider based in Morris, Minnesota.
Five challenges child care providers in Minnesota are facing:
- Staff shortages and staff retention. The work is draining and staff often leave for less emotionally laborious work. Also, to become a qualified childcare provider, staff have to complete training and sometimes licensing. This can be a barrier for many interested in working in child care.
- Under-enrollment. This is particularly an issue for rural child care providers. There just simply aren’t enough children enrolled for providers to be able to pay for basic expenses. Chris Ismil, who works in community development for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, said this is because of factors like low population density and poor transportation resources in rural Minnesota. Also, there has been a significant drop in child care enrollment since the COVID-19 lockdown, as many parents have chosen to either care for kids themselves or are working from home and decided not to send kids back to child care providers.
- Lack of additional funding from the state. Gov. Tim Walz had proposed using part of the $9.25 billion budget surplus to assist child care providers. But House Democrats and Senate Republicans couldn’t agree on spending for child care. This sparked frustration with providers. “There’s just a lack of understanding with family child care. We are part of the early childhood education profession. We are supporting children in their development,” provider Sherry Tiegs said.
- Anticipation of COVID relief funds expiring. Child care provider Karen DeVos expressed her concern that if her center no longer received its COVID relief funds, it might not be able to afford to continue to pay staff. Most child care providers are relying on these federal funds and will face similar complications when they expire in 2024.
- Wage competition. As wages increase across the state, child care providers are struggling to keep up compared to other workplaces. For example, grocery store cashiers saw a 46% median wage increase from 2015-2021, while child care workers saw only a 31% median wage increase, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This can lead to fewer people seeking out child care jobs and make it harder to retain people.
To learn more about issues child care providers are facing, check out the links below.
- The Center for Rural Policy and Development released a report last week detailing the issues providers are facing.
- Amanda Schillinger, director of Pumpkin Patch Childcare and Learning Centers in Burnsville, argued in a Community Voices piece in March that child care is pushing middle class Minnesotans out of the middle class.
- MinnPost’s Walker Orenstein detailed in this 2021 story how child care funding programs were dividing large and small providers.
- Some child care providers this summer were disappointed to find they were excluded from “hero pay.”