City, businesses look to alleviate child care shortage
Instead of an hour roundtrip to get the kids to day care, why not make every day take-your-kids-to-work day? The city of Duluth wants to make it easier to locate child care centers in business districts, which could pave the way for relatively fa...
Instead of an hour roundtrip to get the kids to day care, why not make every day take-your-kids-to-work day?
The city of Duluth wants to make it easier to locate child care centers in business districts, which could pave the way for relatively far-flung companies like Cirrus to have child care on-site or nearby.
"We have a lot of areas in Lincoln Park, Spirit Valley, up at the Airpark (where) it would be really nice to allow them to pursue that and develop some of their own options," Duluth City Councilor Arik Forsman said at a forum Tuesday morning at Valentini's Vicino Lago.
Duluth needs 1,100 more licensed child care spots to keep up with current demand - and likely more if businesses are hoping to recruit the young families they need to replace a rapidly retiring workforce.
"This isn't just for families to have to figure out. This is an economic development issue, too," Forsman said.
The Duluth City Council held a first reading of the proposed zoning change on Monday night.
While the move would cut one layer of red tape, the state has plenty more behind it that puts strict conditions on what a child care business must look like. Providers say such heavy regulation is driving them out of the industry and keeping others from joining.
A recent report shows Northeastern Minnesota has lost more than 100 in-home child care providers since 2011.
"I've seen a significant drop in my business from day care centers and in-home," said insurance agent Heidi Nessa during Tuesday's Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum. "What they tell me is the regulations are intense. If there's any way to lower some of those, that would help a lot - at least with the in-home day cares."
State legislators have introduced more than a dozen bills that deal with child care regulation and financing so far this session. If the bills are to advance, they would have to be passed out of committee by Friday.
Tony Sertich, president of the Northland Foundation, said the disconnect between child care costing too much for many families and providers not making enough to stay in the business needs to be addressed.
"It's a very stressful, demanding industry with low reimbursements," he said. "It's very person-intensive, and that's where the expenses come in, your employees. And there are a lot of fixed costs as well."
To help break down what Sertich calls "one of the biggest barriers to economic growth for our region," the Northland Foundation recommends businesses:
• Provide on-site child care for workers;
• Pool resources to start or sponsor a child care business;
• Reserve child care spaces to ensure room for potential/existing employees.
Other recommended solutions include multiple providers working together in a shared space and school districts and colleges offering child care for employees and community members.
Duluth Area Family YMCA CEO Sara Cole said that whatever options are pursued, the well-being and growth of young children needs to remain the focus.
"The power of early education - I think it's a solution to so many things we worry about further down the stream," she said.
Child care legislation
House Democrats and Senate Republicans were quick to jump on the statewide child care shortage, which is especially hitting rural areas hard as family providers leave the business and child care centers simply can't open fast enough to pick up the slack.
The first bill introduced in the House this session was the Great Start For All Minnesota Children Act, which would in part provide money to increase access to quality child care around the state.
The second bill introduced in the Senate this year seeks to make licensing easier for child care providers and create a streamlined communication process between licensors and providers.
"During statewide listening sessions over the summer, Senate Republicans heard from parents struggling to find and afford child care," according to a news release. "New legislation will address the regulatory overreach that causes these problems and encourage new child care providers to start up."
A number of other bills that provide funding for child care startups and scholarships and address licensing and regulation have been introduced; only those that make it past Friday's committee deadline will have a chance at passing this year.