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South Dakota child care gaps alarm business, political leaders


The complex issue of child care burdens families across the state. As the topic directly affects the next generation of South Dakotans, now is the time for movement from leaders.

At a recent child care town hall hosted by SDPB’s Jackie Hendry, leaders from state’s political and business communities shared their commitments to improving resources for both families and providers.

One speaker was Kayla Klein, director of Early Learner South Dakota. She said there is a fundamental problem with the child care business model, which receives no state funding.

“We have about 29,000 children who actually qualify for child care assistance, 1,800 – only 7% - are actually receiving child care subsidies," Klein said. "We have thousands of children in South Dakota, living in the crisis of poverty, and we’re not even reaching them.”

Further, turnover, inflation and poor pay standards aren’t doing the industry any favors. The average pay of a child care provider in South Dakota is $10.97 an hour.

“Think of trying to run a business if you have 80% turnover – even 60% turnover – the amount of training and hiring and costs that go into that is incredible," Klein said. "When every other market’s new minimum wage is $15, $20 an hour, possibly benefits – which by the way, most child care in-home or center-based do not provide either – why would we stay there for minimum wage and high stress? Has anyone been in a room with 10 two-year-olds?”

With the state slow to draw on the issue, some have turned to the business community for solutions. David Owen, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said this issue is a priority for him.

“My board now has a better understanding of what it might take, and I think you’ll see us between now and the start of the next session embracing Senator (Tim) Reed’s proposals and ideas that says maybe this needs to be for those small businesses that aren’t going to increase wages that much because they’re caught in the same trap child care is – maybe this is a shared resource we ought to talk about using common resources for.”

Child care providers in attendance on the town hall, asked parents to treat your provider as a professional, not a babysitter, and consider donating supplies to the class if possible.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture
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