Iowa child care providers are speaking out against a new proposal that they say could decrease the quality of care, cause more teachers to quit, and possibly even harm children.
House Study Bill 511 would increase the number of children each child care worker could be responsible for. Currently, child care facilities must have one caregiver for every six 2-year-olds and one worker for every eight 3-year-olds. Under the proposed bill, a worker could watch as many as eight 2-year-olds or 10 3-year-olds.
The proposal–which was recommended by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ child care task force–is intended to increase the number of available child care slots amid an ongoing shortage without having to hire additional workers.
Critics of the bill worry it could have the opposite effect, leading already-exhausted employees to ultimately quit the industry altogether.
“If we burn out folks, we will not be able to replace them at the low wages and the low benefits we provide,” Dave Stone, a lobbyist for United Way of Central Iowa, told the Iowa Capitol Dispatch.
In 2020, the average Iowa daycare worker earned just $10.70 an hour–or $22,260 per year–according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Republican State Rep. Ann Meyer, who introduced the bill, argued that the bill would not be a mandate, but would simply give child care facilities the flexibility to take in more children.
“It’s not mandatory. We’re not saying every class has to go up to this size. It’s voluntary,” Meyer told KCCI. “If the center feels they can do that safely, they’ll have the regulatory relief to do that.”
“The smaller the groups are, the more a child can learn and develop those skills that they need. Social, emotional, especially self regulation, establishing bonds with their peers,” said Johanna Campbell, a teacher at Grace Preschool in Des Moines.
Kelly Donnelly, the director of Grace Preschool, told KCCI that the idea of flexibility sounds nice, but the reality of the child care industry means that providers won’t actually have a choice.
“Centers are closing left and right. People will go to those lower ratios and give lower quality care,” Donnelly said.
The pandemic decimated the child care industry, forcing many providers to close their doors. President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan invested more than $200 million in Iowa’s childcare sector to help keep existing centers open, but some providers are struggling to find and retain staff.
Rather than increase ratios, experts like E.J. Wallace, the mobilization manager for Save The Children Action Network, believe that the real solution lies in hiring more teachers and improving pay.
“We should be adding more humans, more adults to help versus taking them away just because we’re having a problem hiring,” Wallace told KCCI. “The reason we’re having a problem hiring is because we don’t pay well enough, there’s not enough financial support.”
Earlier this month, the Iowa Department of Human Services announced a new $30 million initiative to recruit and retain child care workers. The state also awarded nearly $37 million in grants to create more than 5,000 new child care slots in Iowa.
Regardless, some teachers still feel that the effort to increase ratios disrespects them and the children they care for.
“How far are lawmakers going to stretch educators to their breaking point?” Campbell asked. “They are not slots. They are not moneybags. They are children. They have emotions. They have needs. To simply treat them as a slot is disgusting.”
by Keya Vakil