Ernst stops by Rock Valley preschool | News


ROCK VALLEY—Securing child care can be strugglesome in many places nationwide, especially in rural communities, an issue raising the attention of local, state and national leaders.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst joined the conversation Monday, Aug. 29, during a roundtable discussion and facility tour at Project Youth Daycare in Rock Valley, part of the Iowa Republican’s 99-County Tour.

“Most folks find that if a parent is taking a child into a community for day care, typically they end up going to that local school district. A lot of rural communities want to make sure they want to have good, strong day-care facilities,” Ernst said.

“Especially with open enrollment in Iowa, parents maybe choose where their child attends school, but if they’ve gone to a day care in the community, they’re more likely to stay in the school system in that community. That’s a good thing.”

The center runs the federal early childhood education program Head Start as well as a year-round day care for children up to 5 years old.

Project Youth is one of the 14 facilities partnered with Mid-Sioux Opportunity for the Head Start program, scheduled to start again after its summer break Tuesday, Sept. 6. Mid-Sioux operates in five counties and is based in Remsen.

Joni Ernst in Rock Valley: August 2022

Government and industry leaders join U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) for a discussion about child-care availability and facilities Monday, Aug. 29, at Project Youth Daycare in Rock Valley. Ernst is part of a bipartisan effort to expand access to federal funds for similar centers.

Ernst praised the center as part of a network of day-care solutions across the country. It opened in its new eight-classroom location in Rock Valley’s industrial park in July 2021.

“One of the single best things we can do for our children is to make sure we educate them,” she said.

The senator is also co-sponsoring a bill with Democrat Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada that aims to help nonprofit day cares such as Mid-Sioux. Specifically, it would allow centers access to funds from the Small Business Administration for capital improvement projects, such as the new building in Rock Valley.

“That’s the struggle most facilities will have: Put together a good business budget. There are a lot of facilities that kind of run on a hope and a prayer that will continue to get donations from the local community. That’s really risky,” Ernst said.

The bipartisanship does not cover the entire issue, however. Ernst said she does not support President Joe Biden’s proposal for universal preschool.

Biden championed the idea for guaranteed access to prekindergarten during his 2020 campaign and has called it a priority if his Democrats keep and expand their majorities in Congress with November’s midterms. He and other proponents have touted the well-studied benefits early education has on life outcomes.

Iowa already has a similar program in which parents can voluntarily enroll. Ernst said that decision should be left to levels below the federal government.

“You want to make sure that it’s locally driven. Having the government start a program across the board, to me, does not make sense. I think that control needs to come from local authorities,” Ernst said.

Joni Ernst shakes hands in Rock Valley

Staff member Robin DeBruin shakes hands with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on Monday, Aug. 29, at Project Youth Daycare in Rock Valley. The child center opened its new facility in July 2021.

“While we can look at programs like Head Start and make sure that funding is there, look at eligibility requirements, make sure there is opportunity in communities, it is certainly not something I am looking to mandate nor tell local authorities how they should be establishing programs.”

As for the local authorities in Rock Valley, those attending Monday’s roundtable spoke about how the community has grown. They largely credited providing amenities, including child care, as a top reason for the town’s success.

Rock Valley is the fastest-growing city in N’West Iowa, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Its population jumped 21 percent in the past decade with more than 4,000 living in town.

City development director David Miller said another challenge is getting those who work in Rock Valley to move there. Of the more than 3,400 people employed in Rock Valley, about 2,500 commute into town.

One way to entice new residents, Miller said, is to reinforce the community’s child care.

Ernst said she has heard about similar situations around the Hawkeye State during her 99-County Tour.

“When people are invited into their community for an interview with a business, the first place they call will be to find out if they have day-care availability,” Ernst said. “If we don’t have those slots available, that potential employee is calling them back saying ‘I’m sorry, I can’t come.’ It all works together.”

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