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Gaps in early childhood education costing South Dakota employers millions

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C.J. Keene
Kayla Klein, director of Early Learner South Dakota, presents to a room of business leaders at the Journey Museum Friday.

The South Dakota Statewide Child Care Business Collaborative held its West River meeting at the Journey Museum in Rapid City. Business leaders gathered to offer thoughts on one of the state’s most pressing issues – early education.

Early Learner South Dakota served as host of the event though representatives from many sectors joined in discussion.

Kayla Klein, director of ELSD, said don’t discount Covid’s effect on childcare service providers.

“Those effects are now seeping into business and quite frankly development in our local communities," Klein said. "The fact that there are more industries concerned about this now than ever before made us think now is the time to bring these folks together and talk together about what is a solution we can all get around the table with.”

One solution according to Klein - more investment to promote stability in the industry.

“I truly believe communities can do amazing things when you come together, but I also believe there is always going to be a question of funding," Klein said. "I’m not saying it has to come from one source or the other, but there has got to be some private-public partnership at some point in time. It has to happen. It is unavoidable.”

With the current issues facing childcare, Klein said parents face the hardest challenges.

“We have quite frankly created an economy that relies on dual income when you are trying to raise children," Klein said. "We have folks at the national level who are concerned about the reduction of children – the birthrate. I mean, you can’t expect someone to make a decision to have a child if there’s quite literally no support, if they can’t financially even support themselves – let alone another little human being.”

According to data shared during the ELSD presentation, productivity losses cost employers $146 million annually in South Dakota due to childcare challenges.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.