By Jill Schramm
Child-care services would get up to $45.6 million in direct state assistance in a proposal released Wednesday by Democratic governor candidate Ryan Taylor.
Taylor held a news conference in Minot to announce his plan if elected to recommend $30.6 million in child-care facility and equipment grants, $15 million in workforce development grants and tax credits and incentives to help communities sustain child-care services in the 2013-15 biennium.
"There's a gaping hole in the child-care sector and I believe the amount of revenue we are taking in, it makes it the state's responsibility to help fill that hole," Taylor said.
Taylor said his plan takes into account the advice of experts who recommend planning for child-care services for 50 percent of documented demand, assuming family and other arrangements take care of the remainder. Only six counties meet that standard, Taylor said. Statewide, 41 percent of the needs are need. In Ward County, the figure is 30 percent.
A study done this year by North Dakota Child Care Resource & Referral found that only 22 percent of the demand for child care is being met in seven oil-producing counties.
"Existing child-care providers those how have been working in their communities for their whole careers are struggling just to stay afloat. Unable to pay competitive wages with what the oil companies are able to pay their workers, centers are being forced to shut down because of lack of qualified employees for the jobs and the burden of the high overhead costs," Taylor said.
Dana Elmore, director of Montessori of Minot, said she hasn't had an applicant for her open positions since April. The center is licensed for about 100 children but is only taking 38 due to lack of staff. Parents assist with cooking and cleaning, she said.
Wages that range from $9 to $15 an hour aren't keeping pace with even fast-food restaurants, Elmore said. The center raised rates to raise wages, losing two families who could no longer afford the care, she said.
Montessori has been offered a facility to open a second operation, but Elmore said she had to turn it down because she could never staff it.
Kristi Asendorf, program supervisor with Child Care Resource & Referral in Minot, said providers must have low overhead to break even. So to expand operations in any way becomes financially difficult or impossible.
"It's always been tough. It's gotten worse. The flooding and the oil haven't helped our situation," Asendorf said.
With the state budget surplus, government can help, Taylor said. The $125,000 child-care grants recently awarded through the state Land Board to five communities don't begin to touch on the needs, he said. A recent study by First Children Finance showed it would take an investment of $28 million to meet 50 percent of the child-care need in Williston alone, he said.
"So throwing $125,000 at a $28 million problems is a lot like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg. It just doesn't work," he said.
Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who is seeking re-election, was unavailable to comment on whether he has plans for assisting the child-care industry in the coming biennium.
However, his campaign communications director, Amanda Godfread, said in a prepared statement, "Governor Jack Dalrymple has a proven track record of supporting families and building strong communities. For example, no one has done more to champion education than Gov. Dalrymple, including the establishment of full-time kindergarten and devising a K-12 funding formula that is now a national model. He has also been a leader in developing the pilot program that has already granted $625,000 to expand childcare facilities in North Dakota and is showing promise to be expanded statewide. Continuing this commitment to families and communities, the Governor's Education Summit today in Dickinson brought educators and state officials together to share resources and ideas to best serve our North Dakota students and teachers, particularly in areas with rapid enrollment increases."
Taylor's plan would set up a committee of child-care professionals and parents to prioritize grants to projects in high-need areas. The grants would fund up to 50 percent of the cost of facilities and equipment. Communities would be expected to donate land and generate private investment, and the state would assist in helping to obtain zero and low interest loans through the Bank of North Dakota.
The workforce development grants would go to help provide competitive salaries.
Taylor cited Berthold's communitywide efforts in creating a center for 65 children as an example of what can be done to build and sustain services.
"Imagine how fast it could have been built with funds and help from the state," he said. "There's a model on how to do things, and there's a role and obligation for the state to be involved."
In 2009, the Legislature appropriated $3.64 million in federal stimulus money to Growing Child Care North Dakota, conducted by Child Care Resource & Referral to assist in starting centers and home-based programs. In addition, the Legislature approved a $500,000 grant program and $1.25 million loan program for child-care providers, The 2011 Legislature granted $3.1 million to recruit, train and retain child care providers. Taylor said his proposal would be in addition to that type of assistance.