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Committee hears plan to address child care crisis in Greater Minnesota

Scott Marquardt, vice president of the Southwest Initiative Foundation, testifies before the House jobs and energy committee April 11 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep Bob Gunther, right. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Minnesota is facing a child care crisis, with many parents in Greater Minnesota unable to find a reliable, affordable place for their youngsters to go while they’re at work. And this is having a “significant impact” on businesses and communities.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) aims to increase sustainable child care options in those areas by appropriating $1.5 million from the General Fund in Fiscal Year 2018 for a grant to the Minnesota Initiative Foundations, which are regional organizations that work to help businesses and communities.

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee laid over HF2424 on Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF2090, sponsored by Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), is awaiting action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.

“We’re definitely having an acute shortage of day care slots open for Greater Minnesota,” Gunther said, noting the “facts are kind of disturbing.” A legislative task force report last year said from 2006-2015, Greater Minnesota had a net loss of nearly 15,000 child care spaces.

WATCH Committee discussion of the proposal 

The lack of available child care is having a “significant impact” on businesses and communities’ abilities to attract and maintain talented workers, said Scott Marquardt, vice president of the Southwest Initiative Foundation, which is part of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations. He noted this has hit every sector “very hard.”

The bill calls for grant recipients to use the money to do the following: 

  • facilitate planning processes for rural communities to develop a community solution action plan that will guide decision making to increase child care and support economic development;
  • engage the private sector to invest in local resources to support the action plan and ensure child care is a vital component of regional economic development planning processes;
  • provide small business development resources, training and technical assistance to child care business owners; and
  • recruit child care programs to participate in Parent Aware — the state’s quality and improvement rating system — by working with local partners to provide low-cost training, professional development opportunities and curriculum.

Marquardt said community-based solutions involving the private sector and providing technical assistance — like business retention and expansion support existing companies already get through agencies like DEED — are key to making child care businesses more viable and sustainable in Greater Minnesota.

“We need to rewrite the narrative about child care in Greater Minnesota — all of Minnesota, frankly — these businesses are businesses, they’re enterprises,” Marquardt said. “They employ people just like restaurants, just like manufacturers. We need to rewrite the narrative for providing the respect that child care providers and the support organizations need, and this bill will do that with the investments that are being made in there.”

Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) said he appreciates what the bill offers, but pointed out it’s missing something he’s heard again and again from rural child care providers – they’re going out of business because of the “overly regulated business climate.”

Gunther said he plans to have meetings around southern Minnesota to find out which regulations can be eliminated to help make business conditions more favorable.

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