Dropping numbers, high costs worry child care providers in rural Minnesota

Published 8:38 pm Thursday, November 2, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s child care providers said their industry is facing a growing crisis, squeezed by dwindling numbers, high start-up costs and a worker shortage.

The number of licensed providers has dropped from 12,000 in 2011 to its current level of 8,500, and that drop is most prevalent in rural Minnesota. In northwestern Minnesota, Norman County now has just one licensed day care center.

Those providers still running, such as Happee Hollee’s Preschool in St. Michael, said they’re being stretched by the need to raise wages to attract and retain qualified workers and feel they can’t raise rates because parents can’t afford it.

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And with high startup costs and plenty of regulations to follow, the shortage itself is tough to crack. Hollee Savillee, owner of the St. Michael child care center, said it’s causing a nightmare for parents who struggle to find day care for their children.

“We have been shouting from the rooftops for years saying this is happening,” she said. “We are losing providers — we are losing two providers a day. If things don’t change for the better, there won’t be many family child care providers left.”

Little Learners Day Care Center in Ada is Norman County’s sole licensed provider. Owner Karen DeVos said she has no openings for infants until at least 2020. She reserves some spaces for couples before they even get pregnant, and turns away five to 10 families every week.

There are few easy answers to solve the industry’s problems.

Several school districts and cities have started opening their own day care centers, while other providers are partnering with local businesses and nonprofits to open up more facilities.

Day care providers like Seville said state lawmakers should address the issue next year.