Valley preschool and daycare providers call for state help while getting squeezed by labor shortage
Providers push for state help to recruit and train qualified staff
FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Ale West searched for weeks before finding a preschool willing to take her child.
“I actually told my husband the other day you know if I knew it would be this difficult maybe I never would have had a child as bad as it sounds,” said West with chuckle.
But in order to enroll her child at “Small Wonders” in Fargo, West had to first agree to work at the school where they have a critical staffing shortage.
It’s a common problem for all preschools and daycare providers in the valley including Chelsea Steinlicht, owner of Bright Futures Learning Center in Fargo.
“It has been extremely stressful, a lot of overtime hours, a lot of stress on teachers, a lot of staffing shortages,” said Steinlicht.
Staffing shortages have forced Steinlicht to close classrooms, turn families away and increase rates. The latter move is aimed at increasing pay for her staff members which currently averages $10 to $15 an hour.
During the height of the pandemic state governments offered preschool and daycare providers grants to help them retain staff and keep their doors open. But for Stienlicht and others, the funding ran out earlier this spring.
“It’s frustrating that as a community there is not additional resources for families to have quality childcare programs or even after school programs,” said Steinlicht.
Both Steinlicht and Kassie Waagen, the Assistant Director at Creative Minds Preschool and Daycare say the solution they need now is more state funding. They also call for state programs aimed at recruiting and training a sufficient number of qualified workers for their industry.
“We’re putting a lot more on our teachers in this field that I don’t think is sustainable and so currently I don’t think that childcare is going in a direction that is going to be positive for anyone,” said Waagen.
Chris Jones, the Executive Director for North Dakota’s Department of Human Resources says he agrees with the solutions suggested by the educators and childcare providers. In the short term he says the state will provide more grant funding later this month though could not specify how much. Long term, he supports more state funding for public private partnerships formed to support the industry.
“If we don’t begin to take this childcare deficit, the childcare deserts we have across the state seriously, we could seriously be hurting our economy going forward,” said Jones.
The other challenge right now is the rising costs for parents. In one example, Wohgen says the cost for one family sending four children to preschool is $36 thousand a year.
In a development Tuesday, Choice Bank announced its “Choice Bank Child Care Grant Program”. According to a bank official, the program will “give financial help to child care facilities in rural areas” in North Dakota.
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