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Channeling funds to child care: State legislature considers bills to address child care shortage

BEMIDJI—Two bills are working their way through the Legislature that ideally would help alleviate the shortage of child care providers throughout the state.

One bill, known as the Child Care Capital Grant Program, would provide funding to "build, upgrade, or expand" child care facilities, according to the Greater Minnesota Partnership, which is helping promote the bills. The second, the Child Care Business Success and Training Fund, would provide funding to Minnesota Initiative Foundations, including the Northwest Minnesota Foundation in Bemidji, to provide "planning, coordination, training and education."

Dan Dorman

"Both those bills work well together," Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, said on Friday on a visit to Bemidji.

Both bills have drafts in both the state House and state Senate.

As written, the Child Care Business Success and Training Fund would provide $3 million to foster the increase of child care providers through training and education. The Greater Minnesota Child Care Capital Grant Program would provide $10 million for the day care facilities that apply.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, is one of the authors who helped draft the bills. Although acknowledging that they may not completely turn the situation around, he said they are nonetheless a step in the right direction.

Kent Eken

"I do see it as a start," Eken said. "It's certainly not going to be the silver bullet that solves the problems we're experiencing with child care access. But, it's a part of the solution."

Parents in Bemidji, along with the rest of Greater Minnesota, have felt the sting of the child care shortage for some time. According to the Center For Rural Policy and Development, there has been a 25 percent decrease in the number of in-home providers in Greater Minnesota since 2006.

The shortage has not affected all areas of the state the same way, however. For instance, there are more center-based providers in the Twin Cities, whereas the rural areas of the state rely more on in-home providers. According to the Center For Rural Policy and Development, the center-based child care capacity increased 31 percent in the Twin Cities since 2006, but only 18 percent in Greater Minnesota.

To some extent, the two bills acknowledge the different challenges felt in different areas of the state. For example, the Greater Minnesota Child Care Capital Grant Program would only be eligible to applicants outside the Twin Cities.

That lack of child care providers can have wide-reaching ramifications, such as businesses not being able to find and maintain an employee base. Dorman said the child care shortage is one of the main issues they hear from people they speak to around the state.

"We think we're going to be able to come back in a year or two and say 'the numbers are getting better or at least stabilized,'" Dorman said about the legislation.

The Child Care Capital Grant Program in the House is HF 423 and in the Senate is SF 538. The Child Care Business Success and Training Fund in the House is HF 422 and in the Senate is SF 537.

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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