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Local View: Pandemic or not, Minnesota must support child care

From the column: "Child-care centers across Minnesota are asking the state to continue the stabilization grants — or we may not have a child-care system at all."

Laura Williams smiles as she gives a thumbs up while Carter Tandler, 3, climbs onto her
Laura Williams smiles as she gives a thumbs up while Carter Tandler, 3, climbs onto her during circle time Thursday morning, Feb. 17, 2022, at Mini Mos Child Care and Preschool in Esko.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
We are part of The Trust Project.

Child care has always been a financially challenging business. Even before COVID-19, our center, Mini Mos Child Care and Preschool in Esko, struggled financially. During the pandemic, it got worse. Like so many child-care centers in Minnesota, we were teetering, barely hanging on.

Quality child care is expensive to provide. There is no way around it. Staffing is one of our biggest challenges. Currently, 73.3% of our budget is for staffing. For reference, most experts say that to run a financially sound business, no more than 50% of your budget should be for staffing. That leaves little left to cover the myriad overhead expenses we have. And prices just keep going up.

During COVID-19, the state of Minnesota offered financial assistance to child-care centers. We are so thankful for the state-funded child-care-stabilization grants. We applied for everything we possibly could during the pandemic, and we continue to do so. These grants have allowed us to care for the kids of our community and provide quality, consistent, and reliable care for their parents.

The child care base stabilization grants stipulated that 70% of the grants go toward increasing compensation. It has been amazing to be able to pay our staff slightly closer to what they deserve. (We still fall horribly short of paying them what they truly deserve without raising rates for families significantly.) Unfortunately, the 30% leftover hasn’t stretched very far.

The remaining 30% of even a $10,000 grant has very little positive impact on our overall financial health. We are continuing to pay down Small Business Association loan debt, personal loans taken out to finance the business and building costs. Not once in the six years of being in operation and working almost every day have I taken home a paycheck.

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My husband and I have invested over $150,000 into our child-care business in order to maintain quality teachers and care for the children of our community. When $7,000 goes to employees, the remaining funds are a drop in the bucket compared to our actual costs. The grants may put us into the positive for that month, but that doesn't mean our bank balances are overflowing.

Yet the grants have given us a look at what a child-care system that is publicly funded can look like. It would be incredible to be in the positive every single month. It would be amazing to take home a paycheck! It would be fantastic to raise the salaries of our teachers and lower the costs for families.

We should be able to both give our teachers bonuses and feel financially stable. To do this we need continued funding and support. The impacts of the child care stabilization grants made this clear. We are tired of living in constant fear of "what does next month look like?”

Child-care centers across Minnesota are asking the state to continue the stabilization grants — or we may not have a child-care system at all. With a more than $9 billion state budget surplus, the choice should be easy.

Courtney Greiner is owner and director of Mini Mos Child Care and Preschool in Esko and a leader with the Kids Count On Us coalition of more than 500 community-based Minnesota child-care providers.

Courtney Greiner.JPG
Courtney Greiner

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