Solving Childcare Shortages Requires a Community Response
5 Jan 2022
$1.35 billion - that’s how much is lost to Missouri’s economy each year due to childcare shortages. A longstanding challenge, childcare shortages were exacerbated by COVID-19, moving the issue to the forefront of conversations on economic recovery and growth. The Untapped Potential in Missouri report found that problems with childcare caused 28 percent of respondents to leave or change jobs in the past 12 months, making it one of the primary causes of workforce shortages.
At the state level, Missouri leaders have been working on strategies to create more childcare openings and to fund existing childcare operations. Locally, organizations like Kirksville Regional Economic Development Inc. (K-REDI) have gathered stakeholders to find solutions to this complex issue.
K-REDI convened a childcare committee in 2019 which has since expanded to create a taskforce that includes communities from the Northwest Roundtable and Missouri Northeast regional organizations. “We have collected solid data through surveys, and that data has already informed decisions. For example, the Kirksville school district had an early childhood program that was going to close. The survey data prompted them to consider keeping their program open and they want to seek funding to expand it,” said Dr. Carolyn Chrisman, Executive Director.
Solving childcare shortages requires a multipronged approach that creates more openings while bringing more childcare workers into the system. The expansion of the school district’s program is one example, but it’s not a solve-all. “We also need to make it easier for at-home daycare providers to become licensed and to address regulation that makes operating childcare centers cost-prohibitive,” said Chrisman. The regional taskforce has identified legislative and policy changes that could help. These include changing the ages of infants from birth to two to birth to 18-months. Since childcare providers must have one adult for every four infants, this slight change would make it easier for more children to receive care.
“Common sense legislation is also necessary for solving childcare shortages in Missouri and throughout the country,” said Chrisman. She cites burdensome regulations on in-home daycare providers as an example. “Daycare providers are required to have a sprinkler system over their water heater. Homes usually don’t have this and I have been told it is expensive to install.” The taskforce hopes to see regulatory changes that bring the requirements for in-home daycares aligned with what is generally considered safe in private homes.
As for funding, childcare providers often struggle with cash flow and making the numbers work. In rural areas, this is exacerbated by the ‘market-rate’ policy. Providers are paid a portion of the market rate to care for children of low-income parents. That means that providers in Columbia may be paid $33 a day. In Kirksville, they could be paid $19. “We are advocating for a pay-for-care model that is more equitable for rural communities. The operating costs are similar so we need childcare subsidies increased to reflect the true cost of caring for a child,” said Chrisman.
Beyond data collection and advocacy, organizations like K-REDI are providing direct assistance to providers. “Our Small Business Development Counselor has been helping providers to apply for funding. There are fourteen programs they can apply for at the state level, in addition to local CARES Act funding and PPP loans. Providers can receive funding for staff, overhead, new equipment, and technology, for example,” said Chrisman.
Business leaders are participating in these conversations as well and have offered to help find solutions. “Our childcare shortages are a community issue that requires a community response,” said Chrisman. “No one can solve this on their own.” The good news is that organizations like K-REDI are taking the lead to find solutions. “Our childcare shortages won’t be solved overnight but we are making strides to improve the situation for everyone,” she concluded.
If you are a business or provider, interested in learning more about Missouri’s start-up, expansion, and enhancement funds, visit Missouri Early Care & Education Connections’ site to learn more. The deadline to apply for funding is June 30, 2022. If you need help with your day-to-day business operations, the Missouri Small Business Development Center’s (MO SBDC) business counselors are available to provide one-on-one business assistance - sign up today!