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Coalition calls for state-supplemented wages to fix North Dakota's child care crisis

The recommendation from the North Dakota Child Care Action Alliance comes out of listening sessions held throughout 2022 about the child care crisis.

A woman hands a magnet shaped like an apple to a young girl.
Telma Jamore works with children at Bright Futures Learning Center in south Fargo on Thursday, Sept. 29,2022.
David Samson / The Forum
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BISMARCK — A statewide grassroots coalition is calling on legislators to adopt a policy concept that it said could fix North Dakota’s child care crisis.

The North Dakota Child Care Action Alliance is recommending creation of a Child Care Workforce Fund as a long-term solution for families, child care workers, providers and local businesses in the state.

The workforce fund would increase child care worker pay through state-supplemented wages, paid for annually by Legacy Fund earnings or other funding mechanism sources, the NDCCAA said in a news release.

The Legacy Fund, approved by voters in 2010, is North Dakota’s massive oil tax savings account that sits at $7.8 billion.

The workforce fund would also create more incentives for people to pursue early childhood education and child care as a career.

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Erin Laverdure, spokesperson for NDCCAA, said the extent of the child care crisis requires innovative solutions and significant investments.

“Without this investment to recruit, retain and grow this workforce, our already fractured child care system is not sustainable,” Laverdure said.

The policy concept grew out of six “listening sessions” held by NDCCAA from May to September of this year, to hear how the child care crisis has impacted families, child care workers, providers and local businesses.

The consensus was that child care workers are essential to the state’s economy, and they deserve respect and fair pay, the cost of which cannot be passed on to families, NDCCAA said.

The child care crisis has plagued the state for years, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child care providers and programs struggle to find people who will work at a low-paying job. In 2021, the median wage for child care workers in North Dakota was $11.19 an hour.

With a slim workforce, some providers and programs have closed or had to pare down their hours of operation, reducing the number of choices for families.

Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United and a member of NDCCAA, said the state has a vested interest in the success of child care providers because their work has an outsized impact on other industries.

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North Dakota has 40,000 open jobs, he said, many of them unfilled because parents simply don’t have enough options for safe, affordable child care.

“We're hoping that if we have a dedicated funding source to help pay these child care providers, more folks will take advantage of that and jump into the workforce,” Archuleta said.

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State Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said while she has not seen the recommendation, she supports any policy ideas related to child care worker pay because the model in place is not working.

“We as a state have to look at child care as infrastructure, just like we look at roads, bridges and broadband access,” Hanson said.

The child care workforce fund would support continuing education and training in child development for teachers, teacher’s assistants or family child care home professionals.

It would also support employees who work at least part-time in a child care setting, tribal child care, pre-K program or Head Start.

Criteria for the fund would be set by an oversight committee of child care workers, providers and community leaders, NDCCAA said.

North Dakota’s legislative session gets underway Jan. 5, 2023.

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“This might not be the answer. Maybe another answer will rise through the discussions, but at least this gets the issue to the forefront,” Archuleta said.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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