Tackling the child care crisis at all levels

Last May U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar sat inside the conference room of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce office building and listened to community stakeholders share child care issues during a roundtable discussion.

Chamber President Brad Gruhot said child care used to be a cost issue, but he now told the senator “it’s also an availability” issue.

“Right now, a lot of directors and in-home providers are going to tell you the joy is being taken out of the business,” Kari Condezo also told the senator. Condezo is director of the Southwest Minnesota State University Child Care Center. “A lot of in-home providers are quitting because it’s getting pushed to the regulations.”

Condezo also revealed she sees a decline in availability for child care and the waiting lists are long at all the centers. Condezo’s remarks are supported in a study conducted by the Center of Rural Policy and Development which reported Greater Minnesota lost more than 15,000 child care spots between 2006-2015. The report claims the decline is due to significant decline in in-home providers.

Meanwhile, child care has also been discussed at local county commission and city council meetings for past couple years.

Minnesota Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne held a town hall meeting in September and child care providers shared their frustrations.

It was at that meeting that Condezo pleaded with the lawmakers to do more than talk about the child care issues. She asked them to go to work.

“Minnesota is an innovative state. Be innovative,” she said.

Maybe state lawmakers heard her plea because they are finally putting the wheels in motion to address child care issues.

Two bills dealing with child care issues were introduced at the Legislature Monday. The bills authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, both create and fund new grant programs with the shared goal of increasing child care capacity while fostering successful and sustainable child care business operations in Greater Minnesota.

Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, executive director of the Region Nine Development Commission and president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, hailed the bills as “a promising start to bringing more child care options to Greater Minnesota and helping providers run successful businesses,” she said.

SF 537/HF 422 addresses the need for more licensed child care providers by awarding $3 million in grants to the Minnesota Initiative Foundations for the planning, coordination, training and education necessary to expand child care access. The money will be used to help providers with business improvement planning, quality mentoring and workforce development.

 SF 538/HF 423 aims to generate more physical spaces for child care through the Child Care Capital Grant Program, which provides grants to child care providers, local governments and regional economic development organizations in Greater Minnesota to cover up to 50 percent of the costs to build, upgrade or expand child care facilities to increase capacity and meet state requirements. The program would be funded at $10 million under the bill.

The Legislature must make these two bills a starting point in addressing the child care crisis in Greater Minnesota. The shortage is a complex problem, but can be solved. But it must be solved not only in the Legislature, but at the county and city government levels as well.

Recognizing the child care issue is just one step. Action in the form of common-sense solutions must follow.


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