Communication, Regulation Changes Seen As Child Care Improvement Keys

By Maureen McMullen, Forum News Service

Better communication and streamlined regulations are parts of the solution to a greater Minnesota child care crisis, according to key Republicans who will control the 2017 Legislature.

Greater Minnesota home-based child care providers are dropping out, often to go to work elsewhere for far more money.

Since 2006, the area outside the Twin Cities lost capacity for more than 20,000 children. While larger child care centers have opened space for 5,000 more children, that leaves greater Minnesota short of care for more than 15,000.

“Families can’t afford to pay more, but providers can’t afford to charge less, so there is a lot of reasons behind that,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said. “Cost of living has gone up; however, wages have stayed the same for the most part. You can’t out price the area you’re living in.”

Franson heads a House committee looking into the situation. A legislative task force will present its recommendations on Jan. 15.

A former child care provider, Franson said a combination of cost and increasing regulations on home day cares has thinned out the number of providers in Minnesota.

Among reforms Franson said she would like to see come out of the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 3, is establishing an advocate for child care providers to serve as a neutral party not affiliated with the Department of Human Services, which regulates child care.

She said that providers talking to county authorities “may hear one thing, then (go) to the state and may get another thing. What we’re hearing from providers is that the licensor from the county will retaliate on that provider for ‘turning them in’ to the state.”

Franson said licensors have enforced their own interpretations of laws and mailed providers citations for errors that could have been corrected during an inspection.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who will lead the Senate majority, said the state must re-evaluate regulations that steer people away from providing child care.

“It’s typically a mom who wants to be at home with her own kids and have a group of people she can take care of,” he said during a recent Forum News Service briefing. “So, if we’re trying to expand that, we need to look at what regulations that make it difficult to do what we need them to do.”

One issue Gazelka identified as a hindrance to providers is a 2013 law to allow child care provider unionization, which he called “an ice bucket of water thrown on” providers.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, who recently was assigned to Franson’s committee, echoed Gazelka’s criticism of child care unionization and said he wants to create a stronger partnership between government and providers.

“There’s a difference between listening and having a conversation and the way things are communicated presently,” he said. “There doesn’t appear to be that feeling that they listen or that there’s a two-way conversation. It’s all dictation from up high that doesn’t meet reality.”

One change Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton wants could further hurt greater Minnesota child care, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

If Dayton gets his way and the state funds school classes for 4 year olds, Urdahl said, it will “will be at expense of child care system” because it would remove that age group from child care for much of the day, making it more difficult for providers to stay in business.