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Lawmakers aim to retain child care providers

Minnesota Rep. Mary Franson of Alexandria announces legislation Monday, written to attract and retain child care workers. Behind her are Rep. Jeff Backer of Browns Valley, left, and John Persell of Bemidji. (DON DAVIS | FORUM NEWS SERVICE)

ST. PAUL — More than 3,000 Minnesota child care providers have stopped providing the service in the past decade, and a bipartisan legislative panel says part of the fix to the problem is to make the system friendlier to providers.

House Republicans say there were 14,481 child care providers in Minnesota in 2005, but 11,384 in 2014, a 21 percent decline.

“When child care thrives, our communities thrive,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria said Monday in introducing legislation proposed by the Affordable Child Care Committee she leads.

Franson’s committee held meetings throughout greater Minnesota leading up to the 2016 legislative session, and said she plans Twin Cities meetings later this year. She said she heard at the meetings that the decline means parents have fewer choices and pay higher child care prices.

“We want to stop the exodus,” Franson said.

To make it easier for people to become child care providers, the committee recommends the state:

  • Create a task force to look at long-term changes needed to attract more providers while maintaining high quality.
  • Produce a simple manual about how to start a child care business.
  • Establish uniform standards for child care facility licensing staff members.
  • Provide economic development grants to communities with innovative ways to provide child care.
  • Find ways to reduce paperwork and for the state to be more responsive to questions and concerns.

“We certainly believe we need to have streamlining,” added Rep. Peggy Flanagan, D-St. Louis Park.

She added that the committee recommendations are a “really good place to start.”

Franson said that one of the main things the committee heard from providers was that “the state was basically there to hinder their businesses.” Many providers leave the business, she said, because they are “just tired of the state dictating to them about ... how to hold a baby.”

Finding care is so hard, Franson said, that child care providers recommend that people even thinking about having a child make a reservation for infant care.

Franson told of families who have looked at moving to Henning, between Wadena and Fergus Falls, but opted not to because they could not find child care there.

The committee legislation would appropriate no money, but House Democrats on Monday announced a plan to increase spending $150 million to $200 million on child care in 2017.

Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, said many of the Democratic initiatives would help increase access to child care in rural Minnesota.

“Access to child care in rural Minnesota is a serious issue for families and one that we heard about consistently in our travel across the state,” Persell said.

Democrats said that studies show quality prenatal care and the early days and weeks of a child’s life are vital to their wellbeing. They said their package would improve infant and child wellbeing by increasing funding for home visiting and funding at-home infant care for new parents so more can afford to stay home with their babies.

The package, known as Pre to 3, would fully fund Early Head Start for at-risk children.

More than $100 million would go to fully fund an existing sliding fee program for Minnesotans in need of financial help. A bigger child care tax credit also would be included, as would $1.5 million for greater Minnesota child care centers.