Payments to child care providers must continue, or we all suffer
Children at Bright Future Child Care in Brooklyn Center. Courtesy photo.
For 30 minutes on May 8, the four of us were movie stars. We were featured in the documentary “Labor of Love: Stories from the front line of the childcare crisis.” This 30-minute film tells the stories of what it is like to work in child care, and of our advocacy work to have child care seen and funded as the public good that it is.
This year, we are closer than ever to making huge gains for Minnesota’s children and families, and those who take care of them. So, we’re using our 30 minutes of fame to highlight the work of the Minnesota Legislature as they consider a child care bill that will enable us to continue to provide high quality care for all Minnesotans.
Across the state, from the metro to small rural communities, child care ranks at the top of issues that Minnesotans say are the most pressing. Families cannot find affordable child care, so they stay out of the workforce. Companies cannot attract employees because there is a lack of affordable child care in their area. Child care providers do not have the funding they need to pay teachers living wages, which means they cannot find and keep teachers. Nobody is winning in this game. Everyone is losing.
The House and Senate have both passed bills that make good forward progress in addressing the child care crisis. But one major difference between the bills could upend this progress.
For the past two years, child care providers have been receiving grants specifically used to keep their doors open during the pandemic, with 70% of the funds going to teacher compensation. Many of us raised wages for our teachers. Others used the funds to provide bonuses. The bottom line is these funds enabled us to pay our teachers wages that kept them from leaving child care for Target or McDonald’s and higher wages.
This program is ending in June, which will be incredibly difficult for child care providers. Providing child care is expensive. We cannot charge families enough to be able to truly give our teachers the wages they deserve. That would put the price of child care out of reach for many families. Yet, the average wage of a child care worker in Minnesota is about $13 per hour, not because we don’t want to pay them more, but because we do not have the funds to do so.
With the grants, we had the funds to do so. If this funding disappears, we’ll have two options. We can cut teacher wages, which will lead to losses in our workforce when we already struggle to find and retain staff. Or, we can raise rates for parents to cover the teacher wages that we increased with the funding (because that was how the money had to be used!).
Some child care centers across the state are already raising rates by 10%, which is really tough for families with young children.
Gov. Tim Walz proposed in his budget to continue this child care funding in the form of child care retention payments — to be 100% used for teacher hiring and retention. His proposal keeps these payments at the same level that we’ve been receiving the past two years, meaning we could keep teacher wages at least the same, and we wouldn’t have to raise rates for families to cover them.
The House has allotted about half of what we need, while the Senate has allotted closer to three quarters of what we need for retention payments in their bills.
Unfortunately, any amount less than what we have been receiving will force us to make hard decisions, ones that some of us are not sure we will survive. There are already child care centers across the state that have classrooms closed because they cannot find teachers. Without fully funded retention payments, more classrooms will close, more child care centers will close, and more families will be forced out of the workforce.
Child care is not only the workforce behind the workforce, it is instrumental in the learning and development of our youngest Minnesotans. As Mary says in “Labor of Love,” “Every child has the right to be cared for. ”
And we can only do that if we have the public support and funding to do so.
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