Minnesota Advocates Call for Increased Government Funding for Early Childhood Education

Child care providers and educators from the region’s Iron Range embarked on a bus journey southward on Monday, temporarily closing their child care facilities for the day to make their case to legislators at the state Capitol during the last week of the ongoing legislative session.

The aspirations of child care proponents have been significantly dampened by a scaled-down legislative session, yet steadfast advocates persist in their efforts to secure augmented funding as part of the Day Without Child Care initiative, an undertaking orchestrated nationally by the progressive group Community Change.

“The specter of permanently shuttering our centers looms closer than perceived by many,” remarked Amanda Reed, director of two child care centers based in Virginia, Minnesota.

Struggling individual child care providers face an uphill battle to maintain financial viability, while Minnesota families bear some of the highest child care costs in the nation—and early education staff earn well below the region’s cost of living. Throughout the state, a shortage of child care slots persists alongside a pressing demand for new entrants into the industry.

The paramount focus of the coalition this session has been a proposal to implement the Great Start Child Care Affordability Program, designed to subsidize child care expenses for families with incomes below 150% of the state’s median income. With an estimated annual cost of approximately $500 million, if fully funded, the program would cap eligible families’ child care outlays at 7% of their household income and stabilize revenue for child care providers.

Despite securing hearings in both legislative chambers, the proposed bill won’t be enacted this session

Amid looming financial constraints, DFL leadership, including Governor Tim Walz, has adopted a more cautious fiscal stance this year, with a mere $59 million of the $540 million supplemental budget agreement allocated for expenditure on children and families.

Consequently, both parents and child care workers are unlikely to receive substantial assistance in the foreseeable future.

Cody Lupich, a school-age teacher and classroom lead at Iron Range Tykes in Mountain Iron, noted that his hourly wage of $16 exceeds industry and regional averages, yet he is preparing to take on a third job to save for a home down payment.

“My presence today underscores my enduring commitment to this profession,” Lupich affirmed.

In the previous year, the DFL-led Legislature disbursed over $1 billion toward early education, including approximately $575 million to sustain a federal initiative from the COVID era that bolstered teacher remuneration.

“The Great Start compensation provisions have been immensely beneficial. Continued funding is imperative,” stressed Pat Ives, director of Kiddy Karousel child care center in Hibbing.

Ives underscored public funding allotments channeled toward entities like the Minnesota Zoo, the Science Museum of Minnesota, public schools, and community colleges.

“Why doesn’t child care feature in that list?” she queried.

(Notably, child care does receive substantial public funding, but the proportions fall short of ensuring that families don’t expend more than 7% of their incomes on child care, a target set by the federal government.)

At a gathering in the Capitol rotunda, Representative Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie, pledged to advocate further for the Great Start Child Care Affordability Program to child care workers and proponents.

Many advocates donned purple shirts, emblematic of the melding of red and blue hues, and championed not just for “living wages” but for “thriving wages” for child care professionals.

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