ANOKA, Minn. – Another day, another urgent call for teachers – and this time it’s in preschools and early childhood care centers.
The struggle comes at a time when the overall number of child care slots in Minnesota is decreasing.
Kids aren’t just the building blocks for our future. All of this – child care and preschool – is the foundation of the American economy and the workforce. Take away some of it or it doesn’t work properly, what happens? It comes crashing down.
The ABC’s of running early childhood education starts with some math. Tight teacher-child ratios maximize safety and provide the healthiest learning environment, and there are always enough children.
“We even had a situation where we wanted to hire a preschool teacher, and that preschool teacher unfortunately couldn’t come to work for us because there wasn’t a spot for her child to go to child care,” said Michelle Trelstad of Anoka-Hennepin Schools.
Anoka-Hennepin District’s preschool and 4-year-old care program is short about 10 percent of staff, and that’s before the flu, COVID-19 or stomach bugs start to go around, so contingency plans must be in place.
The plans include teachers, their bosses, and even their bosses’ bosses covering a classroom – and also working in before and after school care at Anoka-Hennepin’s elementary schools, where 1 in 5 K-5 students enroll. Program supervisor Jody Abrahamson couldn’t even quantify how much help she needs.
“I mean, my sites, the five that I oversee is probably short six, seven, nine, 10, 15 maybe across the five sites? But we have one location that’s short like 14 staff,” Abrahamson said. “We make it work because we’re a service to the community.”
Anoka-Hennepin officials say they hope to get help for those after-school programs from high schoolers starting at age 16. Click here for more information on how to apply for a job.
The challenges for the child care industry extend out into rural parts of Minnesota, too.
Kayla Gruber’s kids are very happy at their daycare center in Little Falls, but she initially wanted them in in-home care.
“I know off the top of my head three in-home daycares in Little Falls that closed within the last year and a half,” Gruber said.
Industry leaders in the outstate met Tuesday for a panel discussion to talk about solutions for a situation only getting more urgent.
“We are stopping the bleed right now,” said Vanessa Goodthunder, the Early Head Start Director for the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Redwood County. “To put a Band-Aid on and continue to do what we’ve always done, it’s just going to continue to make a wound.”
A top priority will have to be keeping workers from leaving the profession.
“They’re passionate about it and they love it, but eventually they leave because there are other options out there that aren’t quite as draining,” said Karen DeVos, a daycare owner in Ada.
The Center for Rural Policy and Development hosted the panel and shared the findings of a survey it conducted among rural stakeholders.
Marnie Werner with CRPD described the cycle: staffing shortages at daycares can force parents to leave their jobs to watch their kids, which worsens worker shortages elsewhere.
Businesses then raise wages to attract workers, making it even more difficult for childcare centers to keep their employees.
“We need to advocate for the youngest children in Minnesota,” said Sherry Tiegs, a family provider in Morris.
Rural care leaders say communities have to harness their resources, which can mean employers, public schools and providers all chipping in.
They also look to loans, grants and lobbying state legislators for more funding.