Child care centers in Iowa may soon be able to increase the number of children each worker cares for under a controversial bill passed by the Iowa Senate on Monday.
Senate File 2268 would increase child care center staffing ratios, allowing providers to increase the number of children enrolled in their care without hiring additional employees. Under the bill, each childcare worker could be responsible for as many as seven 2-year-olds or ten 3-year-olds, up from six 2-year-olds and eight 3-year-olds at present.
The bill passed 32-18 along party lines, with Republicans arguing it was necessary to address Iowa’s workforce crisis. Child care providers and advocates have criticized the bill, arguing it could decrease the quality of care, cause more teachers to quit, lead to the “warehousing” of children, affect children’s development, and possibly even put kids in danger.
Sen. Claire Celsi (D-Polk), a former child care provider, said the bill would push more responsibility onto already-strained workers without a commensurate raise.
“That seems like a recipe for disaster,” Celsi said. “We have a child care crisis. We have a workforce crisis. This is just going to make it worse.”
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.
“How many of you would do this for $10 an hour?” asked Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque). “You want to solve a workforce crisis? Pay ‘em!”
In an ironic twist, the party obsessed with providing parents transparency about schools also voted down an amendment that would have done exactly that. Jochum introduced an amendment that would have required child care centers to provide parents a 30-day notice in writing if the center decided to increase staffing ratios.
“This amendment provides parents with parental choice and consent, so they can make a good decision on the care of their children,” she said.
Jochum and fellow Democrats argued that parents, especially parents of children with special needs, might seek out a new child care provider if they knew that their child’s center would adopt higher ratios.
“It is very important that those parents are aware if the dynamics are changing at their child care setting, to make sure that they can ask the questions they need to discern if it’s really in their child’s best interest to stay in that setting, if they’ll be able to get the individualized care that they need, if they’ll be safe, if they’ll be supported, and what plan that child care setting has to make sure that they’re able to maintain those standards with the changing ratio,” said Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-Dallas).
The amendment was voted down 31-19 by the Republican-led chamber, drawing a rebuke from Jochum.
“I am disappointed that Senate Republicans rejected my pro-parent amendment during debate today on legislation to loosen child care protections,” Jochum said in a statement on Tuesday. “It’s about being transparent. It’s about being honest. And it’s about giving parents the information they deserve to know.”
Jochum also delivered a blistering critique of the bill.
“The first five years of a child’s life are the most important. It lays the foundation for their entire life and their learning. If there’s ever a time where young people need to have one-on-one intervention or interaction with an adult, it is in those first three years and first five,” Jochum said. “This is about the safety of children. Why would we ever think about compromising that?”
The legislation’s supporters, including state Sen. Jeff Edler (R-Marshall), claim opening up more child care slots will solve Iowa’s workforce shortage.
“This adjustment to Iowa’s child care ratio could not come a moment too soon,” said Edler. “As the workforce shortages continue to challenge Iowans, we’re providing an outlet for their children so they can return to work.”
Edler also took issue with claims that the bill would harm kids.
“To say this is going to damage kids, it’s absolutely false, because the daycare provider has the ability not to change that ratio,” he said.
While the bill leaves the decision of whether to actually raise ratios up to individual providers, some providers argue it’s not really much of a choice.
Kelly Donnelly, the director of Grace Preschool, told KCCI last month 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 bill now heads to the House, where a similar bill, House File 2131 has passed through committee, but not yet been considered before the entire chamber.
by Keya Vakil
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