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Our view: Is progress on the way for the child care crisis in North Dakota?

Some North Dakotans are traveling 80 miles round trip to bring their kids to child care centers, according to Josh Kramer, head of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.

Herald pull quote, 9/21/22
Herald graphic
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Some North Dakotans are traveling 80 miles round trip to bring their kids to child care centers, according to Josh Kramer, head of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.

Kramer also said North Dakota – a so-called child care “desert – is in need of some 10,000 new child care slots to meet demand. To staff that number of slots requires at least 1,400 new workers in the industry.

And again, that’s just in North Dakota.

Kramer’s comments were highlighted in a Forum News Service report last week that announced North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has designed framework for legislation to help address the availability, affordability and quality of child care in the state. The governor said it will be refined in the coming weeks before it is introduced in the upcoming session of the Legislature, which will convene in January.

Burgum’s announcement is welcome news in a state that is greatly suffering from a growing crisis. The lack of child care – we believe, as do many others – is contributing to the state’s labor shortage, which in turn is inhibiting business growth in so many communities and business sectors.

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Young parents are opting out of the workforce to instead stay home, since child care is either nonexistent or cost-prohibitive.

As we wrote in January: “Who can blame them? Child care costs can come in at $500 to $1,000 or more per month per child. Openings are so scarce that parents are reserving spots months before a child is born. … Until this is fixed, more young parents will simply stay home.

That’s just bad for business.”

It appears efforts to fix the problem are picking up momentum.

As noted in last week’s FNS report: “Burgum's proposal will connect families to child care, increase the number of eligible children, expand child care availability, add tax credit initiatives, expand the model of public and private partnerships and help with investment into child care centers, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford said. Additionally, the state has plans to match employer benefits toward child care for working families.”

This is a heartening development, and one we hope gains even more traction in the weeks leading up to the 2023 legislative session. North Dakota cannot delay its efforts to fix the problem, and the state’s legislative calendar – lawmakers only convene every other year – means work must be done now if we’re going to see any sort of progress on this front in the coming year or two.

Although some specifics are still missing, Burgum’s general idea – that work needs to be done to fix child care issues in the state – should be a slam dunk. Even Democrats tended to agree after learning of the proposal last week.

“Child care is an incredibly urgent issue for families and the business community right now,” Rep. Zac Ista, D-Grand Forks, told Forum News Service. “Businesses are desperate for workers, but parents can’t go to work if they can’t find a safe place that provides quality care for their kids. And families who can find childcare are struggling to pay for it.”

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To us, it sounds like progress – desperately needed progress – is on the way.

Lawmakers must get behind this and push it through.

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