Local View: Publicly funding child care can keep Minnesota centers open

From the column: "We cannot do it based solely on the rates families pay."

A teacher has her hands full with a 6-month-old and 11-month-old at Benedictine Child-Care Center in Duluth. (1998 file / News Tribune)

Early care and learning opportunities are critically important for children. They help our youngest Minnesotans develop the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills and tools they count on to succeed later on in life.

However, this is an industry facing deep economic challenges that result in challenges for families and communities. Wages aren’t keeping up enough to recruit and retain professionals necessary to keep child-care classrooms open.

Access to high-quality early care and education has a significant impact on kids and their families, but it is also vital to local economies in nonmetro Minnesota. When parents can’t afford — or, in some cases, even find — a safe and supportive child-care environment, they may not enter the workforce.

In January, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced historic funding for early-childhood care and education in Minnesota. Child-care providers across the state breathed a sigh of relief. The plan includes “payments for child care programs to retain staff through increased compensation” and is vital to keeping child-care centers open across the state.

Beginning in July 2021, child-care centers in Minnesota could receive stabilization grants, intended to keep them afloat. These grants are scheduled to be cut in half in March and disappear completely in July. We cannot afford to lose them — and we mean that quite literally, which makes the payments the governor is proposing to increase staff compensation absolutely necessary.


Seventy percent of the stabilization grants are required to be used for staff compensation. University Nursery School in Duluth has used them to effectively raise staff wages between $2.40 and $2.70 per hour. For a full-time staff member, that’s around an extra $100 per week, which makes a huge difference in the life of someone making $14 per hour. It’s also a big difference for the school, as it can now compete with the wages other employers are paying. Too often, when a new aide is hired, time and resources are spent to train them, and they only stay for a few weeks before finding a better-paying job elsewhere.

To pay early-learning teachers higher wages, the rates parents pay would have to go up even more. There is no squish or wiggle room. The money that comes from parents goes directly to center expenses and teacher wages. Both wages and rates are as high as they can go. The industry is walking a very fine and precarious line attempting to charge families the least amount possible while still paying staff competitive wages, sometimes so centers even have staff. No one likes raising rates for families, because it is so difficult for many of them to pay even the current rates.

University Nursery School raised rates this month and is confident that if rates are raised any more, families will be priced out of care. It will make more sense for parents to leave the workforce than for them to pay the cost of child care.

The early-childhood care and education system in our state needs robust public investments to provide the high-quality care all Minnesota kids deserve. We cannot do it based solely on the rates families pay. Stabilization grants have given us a glimpse of what a system that is publicly funded can be.

Teachers deserve higher wages. They do amazing and hard work every day. Rates also have to be affordable for families. These two wishes don’t fit together, which is why stabilization grants, and the permanent retention payments the governor and lieutenant governor have outlined in their budget, are vital to early-childhood education in Minnesota.

We’re ready for the Minnesota Legislature to act. We’re counting on lawmakers to deliver for our youngest Minnesotans to ensure parents have affordable and accessible care, children get high-quality early-childhood education, and teachers are fairly compensated for their work. That’s the system all of us deserve.

Tracy Goulet is CFO and Channon Richardson is CEO and head director of University Nursery Schools in Duluth. Both are also leaders with Kids Count on Us , a statewide coalition of providers, parents, and teachers. Rep. Liz Olson, DFL, is the elected representative of western-Duluth’s District 8A in the Minnesota House of Representatives and chairs the House Committee on Ways and Means.

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