NMF early childhood specialist says visit last week to St. Paul was encouraging

    As stakeholders and officials in Crookston continue to explore ways to put a big dent in the local licensed child care shortage – a non-profit child care center for as many as 100 infants and children is being explored at the former Marywood residence a mile east of town – they’re buoyed by the knowledge that the child care shortage is negatively impacting communities across Minnesota, so much so that the state legislature seems more determined than ever to do something about it.

    Missy Okeson, program specialist in early childhood and youth with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and based in Roseau County, said at a child care committee meeting this week in Crookston that she went to the Capitol in St. Paul last week to pitch various measures the legislature could take to help communities and stakeholders ease the shortage of licensed child care slots, which is estimated in Crookston to be 179 and, within a 20-mile radius, 316.

    Okeson said perhaps the boldest idea pitched to legislators included eliminating income tax for child care providers. In addition, she explained, legislators were told that if changes were made in the required ratio of care providers to children and in the way centers are licensed, it might help communities smaller than Crookston be able to financially support child care centers smaller than the one being pursued in Crookston.

    “You have a limit of 10 to 12 (children) for a single provider, so you get a partner and then you can go to 14, but what that tells you is that adding a partner doesn’t really help,” Okeson said. “The cost of adding the partner is too prohibitive for the number of children you’re able to add.”

    And what was the response from legislators to all of the ideas?

    “They said, ‘Write the bill,’” Okeson reported. While adding that the Northwest Minnesota Foundation doesn’t actually author legislation, she stressed that the agency is “going to pursue” legislation that could help with the shortage, with “experts help.”

    Okeson said that the child care shortage is so widespread that not only are community leaders and child care stakeholders speaking up, big business is talking about it, too, because it’s adversely impacting their efforts to grow or even maintain their workforce. It’s caught the state legislature’s attention, she noted.

    “The legislature is realizing we’re not going away, so some things are starting to meld a little bit,” Okeson said. “That being said, it’s still politics.”

New NMF grant program

    The NMF recently launched a comprehensive new initiative focused on improving the lives of those who live in the communities in serves, and addressing the child care shortage crisis across the region is a major facet of it.

    “Hot off the press,” Okeson said, is a request for proposals (RFP) that the Foundation has ready to disseminate involving a grant program that follows along separate but related tracks. The grant program focuses on child care availability and quality, early childhood education and the workforce.

    One of the most ambitious components of the initiative involves introducing the child care profession in high schools “to students who are maybe thinking about going into that profession,” Okeson explained.

    Speaking to the child care group at Valley Technology Park in Crookston this week, Okeson encouraged the group to study the RFP and apply for funding.

    “I think this group would be good contenders,” she said.