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No action taken on proposed temporary extension of waiver for child care centers

Particularly in Greater Minnesota, child care centers for years have faced problems hiring qualified providers. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the crisis, requiring a state intervention in the form of waivers, particularly in child care center staffing rules.

Those temporary waivers are helping child care centers reduce waiting lists by accommodating more kids in their programs, and allowing parents to keep their work schedules instead of leaving the workforce.

Center operators want the temporary rules extended through June 30, 2023. That’s why Rep. Jordan Rasmusson (R-Fergus Falls) sponsors HF2817.

The bill, as amended, was laid over Tuesday by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

Centers would be required to have a teacher-qualified staff person and a staff member responsible for programming onsite when children are present. A staff member hired to meet the staff-to-child ratio would need to be at least 18 years old, and hold at least qualifications of an aide, rather than a teacher.

The temporary relaxation of rules has made a huge difference, said Susan TenEyck-Stafki, executive director of Children’s Corner Learning Center in Fergus Falls. “We are still in the middle of a workforce crisis.”

TenEyck-Stafki said it is still not easy to find replacements for qualified child care professionals, particularly in rural parts of the state, and the ability to use aides has helped child care centers manage their work loads and brought relief to families looking for affordable child care.

A continuation of relaxed rules into the next year would help centers as they look for stability in their operations going forward, she said.

But Ann McCully, executive director of Child Care Aware Minnesota, believes lowering care provider qualifications is not a long-term solution.

“We need a greater investment in this field,” she said, adding that early childhood educators need to be qualified, diverse, and equitably compensated.

Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka) said the bill would treat symptoms instead of addressing the root cause.

Rasmusson acknowledges the bill is “not a silver bullet,” rather it is about providing flexibility to business owners to be able to help families, some of whom drive more than 30 miles to find a spot for child care, causing anxiety and stress.

A Department of Human Services’ report to the Legislature would be due before the rules sunset.

The bill’s companion, SF2751, sponsored by Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.


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