Letter: Minnesota Legislature must provide sustainable funding for child care

"If the retention payments are not funded at the same levels as the stabilization grants, we will have two choices, both of which will have terrible consequences," Minnesota child care leaders write.

FSA minnesota minn capitol
Minnesota Capitol. Forum News Service

As childcare providers, we are acutely aware of the child care crisis in Minnesota (and across the country). We live it every single day. We are exhausted by trying to keep the rates families pay for child care as low as we can and still pay our expenses. Child care is a failed business model that needs public funding to survive, public funding that is currently under discussion in the Minnesota Legislature.

Throughout the pandemic, the state of Minnesota stepped in with public funding to help us keep our doors open. These stabilization grants provided around $425 for each full time employee each month. A substantial portion was to be used for staff hiring and retention. We still have an incredible staffing shortage but without those grants many of us would have already closed. With these grants, child care providers have been able to raise teacher wages or provide bonuses. These have meant the difference between teachers staying in the field or leaving for higher paying jobs. We finally had the resources to compete at least a little with Walmart, where employees start at $17.50 per hour.

The child care crisis didn’t appear suddenly during the pandemic. Childcare is expensive to provide just like K-12 education is expensive to provide and for years we have been moving ever closer to a tipping point—the point at which it becomes impossible to pay our staff living wages because we cannot possibly charge families enough to cover those costs.

Many centers across the state have already reached that tipping point. Some of us are reaching that point classroom by classroom. For example, ABC123 Child Enrichment Center is licensed for 175 children, yet only 120 are enrolled. Not because there are no families that need child care, but because there is no staff to teach. As a result, they’ve converted a classroom into an indoor gym. They can only convert so many classrooms into indoor gyms before they simply cannot sustain themselves.

The legislature has budgeted money for “retention payments” for childcare providers, which are nearly identical to the stabilization grants, except that 100% of the payments must be used for teacher compensation. Bills in both the Senate and the House, however, have the amounts for these payments at substantially less than the $400 per month for a full-time employee. Gov. Tim Walz proposed in his budget to keep the retention payments at the same level as the stabilization grants and we are begging the legislature to do the same.


If the retention payments are not funded at the same levels as the stabilization grants, we will have two choices, both of which will have terrible consequences.

  1. We can cut the wages or bonuses our staff have been receiving, keeping costs where they are for families but resulting in a huge loss of staff, with little ability to find other staff.
  2. We can raise rates for families, allowing us to keep teacher compensation where it currently is, but leading to the loss of families who cannot afford child care anymore.

Both of these options accelerate our paths toward the tipping point. While many child care centers have closed classrooms because they cannot find staff, others have already closed completely. We need permanent, sustainable funding to keep our doors open, provide high quality, affordable child care for families and provide living wages for our teachers who deserve to be paid what they are worth. We’re counting on the Minnesota Legislature to invest in our littlest Minnesotans and those who care for them.
Nicole Flick is the executive director and owner of ABC123 Child Development Center in Dilworth. Kay Heidrich is the director of Trinity Preschool in Moorhead. Lacey Hoppe is the director of the Early Education Center at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Jill Magnell is the owner and director of Little Discoveries Learning Center in Moorhead.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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