Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Minnesota 2020 Journal: Improving Childcare Starts at Home

March 01, 2013 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

Minnesota’s childcare policy debate begins with two incontrovertible truths. Good childcare isn’t cheap and childcare providers don’t make very much money. It may seem counterintuitive but these truths are not mutually exclusive. We can improve childcare quality, raise wages, and control client care costs. We can have it all. Plus, Minnesota’s future depends on it.

First, however, we have to move past conservative public policy dogma’s artificial, prosperity-defeating barriers. “No new taxes” isn’t just an unfair revenue and budget structure, asking less of Minnesota’s highest income earners while giving them a larger slice of the collective pie, it’s also subverting Minnesota’s workforce development. The past ten years of education funding strangulation, including pre-K programs, won’t be truly felt for another 10-20 years when today’s students are less than fully-equipped in the workplace.

Watch a group of preschoolers playing. Watch them run and talk and smile and cry and intently explore their environment. Children are natural learners. Their brains are hard-wired to absorb information. Child development research reveals that the first few years of life assume disproportionate developmental weight. Miss the opportunity to help children grown and learn, the loss lasts a lifetime.

What’s less readily observable, watching small children play, are the economic development public policy ramifications. In twenty years, those kids become entry-level workers. We need them to become Minnesota’s most accomplished, flexible and insightful workforce in state history. Investing in high quality childcare moves us closer to realizing this goal. Subverting investments and change undermines our future.

Addressing the long-term economic and workforce development challenge requires many small changes, not a single dramatic action. If there were an easy answer, we would’ve found it—and acted on it—a long time ago.

Most Minnesota families are two-income households. Consequently, most families use daycare. Raising the quality of Minnesota’s daycare experience improves child development in a large slice of Minnesota’s population.

High quality, daycare center childcare is costly. It can easily run $300 per week, per child, roughly translating to 10,400 for a 4-year old and $13,000 to $15,000 for an infant annually. Minnesota’s medium household income is $58,000. Even assuming that young parents earn the medium, childcare costs represent a substantial family financial resource commitment.

Home-based daycare’s cost structure is about half that of a center. As a result, family childcare providers tend to serve working families. Nearly all childcare providers are women, working from their own homes. After expenses and long hours, they earn, on average, $4.95 an hour child in the Twin Cities and $2.83 in Greater Minnesota. More than half use a formal learning curriculum in their daycare programs. That also means that slightly less than half do not.

Improving Minnesota’s 2033 workforce means improving pre-K learning in 2013. We’re already asking a lot of the 9,000 licensed, home-based childcare providers. They perform critical, essential tasks, mostly by themselves. Keeping providers isolated inhibits cost increases but at the long-term expense of workforce improvement gains.

We have sliding-fee childcare assistance in Minnesota. That’s been a great step forward, aiding families and businesses alike. But, we’re past time to take the next steps forward. Improving early childhood education requires greater public investment in childcare delivery. Minnesota’s family childcare providers need better support, on-going training, and greater capacity to work together to improve their charges’ lives.

Minnesota’s history is a study in collective action. Dairy farmers started marketing coops. Immigrant groups established fraternal organizations to provide insurance coverage to their members. Churches started nonprofit organizations to address systemic poverty and homelessness challenges. Neighborhoods organized crime watch programs, augmenting police protection. We do well when we come together to work together, improving our lives.

It’s time to help Minnesota’s licensed family childcare providers do the same. We have a collective self-interest in improving childcare quality. Raising kindergarten readiness is the first observable outcome but real success is realized in 20 years as today’s preschoolers become tomorrow’s workers.

Investing in improved early childhood education is, relative to other educational costs, cheap, easy, and readily measured. Minnesota improves every child’s preschool experience, tackles the educational achievement gap and grows Minnesota’s economy when we invest in early childhood educational improvements. Kids benefit. Families benefit. Childcare providers benefit. Businesses benefit. Minnesota benefits.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Randy Olson says:

    March 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Will the author of this blog have the courage to post this link? It shows the other side to this argument.

    Read and see for yourself:

  • Randy Olson says:

    March 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you, John and company. Let the debate continue.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    You do everything but come out and support this attempted AFSMCE power play to force a group of independent Business Women under their control for taking state dollars. Everything your article claims it is going to provide them they have already testified they have without your damn union. They overwhelmingly don’t want this union forced on them, yet this continues.

  • Nancy says:

    March 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you, John Van Hecke, for MN 2020’s continuing coverage of one of the critical issues facing families, our state and the country. I especially appreciate your discussion of Minnesota’s long and proud heritage of building opportunities and tackling problems together we can’t solve individually. Private businesses and the public sector depend on working parents but we still have no paid parenting leave and inconsistent child care quality. Low wage working parents have to juggle child care and work hours, the lack of quality child care choices in many communities, and footing the bill for quality whose long term benefits accrue to business (ready workforce) and taxpayers (less taxes spent on social services, crime, etc.)

    Contrary to Randy Olson’s comment, the article he references does not “show the other side of the argument.” The main case we’re making is the need for public investment in building quality child care choices, providing consumer information and ratings to help parents distinguish quality, and awarding scholarships/fee subsidies so that low wage working parents can make quality choices for their children.

    Regarding recent unionizing efforts, family child care providers, as proprietary business owners, set their own individual rates. However, family child care providers who receive public scholarships or fee subsidies can help improve the system by having a say in the rules and regulations and how they’re implemented. Whether they are licensed or whether they care for children from only one unrelated family and are exempt from licensing, I think the mostly female workforce of family child care providers need organized representation on state policies affecting their work.

  • Randy Olson says:

    March 5, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Nancy, with all due respect your comment “I think the mostly female workforce of family child care providers need organized representation on state policies affecting their work” rings very hollow!!

    They already have a group called the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association who does just what you are stating. You are simply promoting an idea of reinventing the wheel while removing the choice to be a part of it for any provider who has CCAP families (a characteristic for some providers that changes often during the year!)

    Furthermore, AFSCME didn’t lift one finger on behalf of child care providers during the July 2011 state shut down when the CCAP payments were in limbo…not ONE finger. MLFCCA submitted a petition that was heard and recognized by the judge and acted on accordingly…hence, the CCAP payments continued during that perilous time.

  • tony says:

    March 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    My wife, who is a teachers aide in Apple Valley had her union representation removed when her co-workers, mostly secretaries de-certified the union & went with an association. Since then she has had no raises & had many of her benfits cut. Dont join an association, they have no teeth, only a union has the clout to help employees deal with their employers & get their ideas through the state govt. School districts are bringing in associations as a cheaper alternative, but all you get is nothing.

  • Randy Olson says:

    March 5, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Tony, I agree with your points on a union regarding employees…this has nothing to do with employees, however! Not one single itty bitty bit to do with that topic.

    This is about privately owned business owners having forced union representation or fair share dues put upon them.

    IN 7 years only 57 have agreed to be with the union? Are you kidding me? That obviously shows that thousands of private licensed child care providers don’t want unionization!!

  • tony says:

    March 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Randy, turn off Fox & explore the real world. Who do you work for? You work for the customer..  These people are employees of the consumers they work for. And they get $2.83/hour. Sounds like they could use a union. And if they dont want a union they can vote no(though at $2.83/hr, I dont know why they would). And you cant be forced into a union, it’s federal law. As for the numbers joining, I agree, it doesnt look good. The unions need to improve their message & I bet most people dont realize they only make $2.83/hour & just see the dollars at the end of the week. My wife did day-care for years & got out when she realized how much people take advantage of you…

  • Randy Olson says:

    March 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Tony, the last time I watched Fox News was in December of last year simply to be entertained by Billy O’Reilly ranting about gun control. I probably watch Fox News twice a year. Also, I vote DFL so before you make assumptions you probably should ask questions about me first.

    Let’s take your argument that child care providers work for $2.83 an hour. You correctly point out that they are basically employees of the consumers. That’s what any business owner is…employed by their consumers of goods or services provided.

    Then you fall off the deep end and say “that’s why they need a union”!?!?!

    If a private business owner wants a pay raise, they can raise their rates. Do you know anything about business or economics?

    Once they raise their rates, consumers can decide if they want to pay the higher rates or shop around to other providers who may charge less.

    Tony, stop drinking the tainted AFSCME kool-aid…you’re embarrassing yourself.

  • TONY says:

    March 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Mr. Randy, I see when you lose the argument you attack the winner. I started my business in 1973, how long have you owned yours? As any business owner knows, you cant raise prices if your competition wont. A union gives the members the tools they need to raise their prices if needed & do it in an informed way.  It also gives them the clout with the legislature to help them with state funding, incentives or programs. Any student of history knows that is why unions formed, thats why you have business associations, to give small business owners the clout to compete against large businesses. The only way individual daycare providers can get ahead is through some a union. All good Democrats know that. My Dad did, he fought to organize in the 1920’s & the middleclass was created.

  • Randy Olson says:

    March 6, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Tony, I’m just doing you a favor by pointing out that your harping about private business owner unionization is only embarrassing yourself.

    The Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association has nearly 5,000 members in Minnesota to do just what you are calling for.

    Tony, why in 7 years has AFSCME convinced only 57 out of 11,000 licensed child care providers in Minnesota to join the union?

    Unions have their place, as AFSCME Local 3400 co-founder Kathy Stevens pointed out. I quote, “A union’s purpose is to support workers in workplace issues such as safety, working conditions, benefits, wages and workers’ rights.”

    Tony, if you need further education on the issue feel free to continue asking questions. It will only help.

  • Randy Olson says:

    March 6, 2013 at 11:43 am

    And Tony, don’t ever again assume someone watches Fox News simply based on the opinions they have. That is insulting, considering Fox News is nothing more than an entertainment channel.

  • TONY says:

    March 6, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Randy, I brought up Fox cuz you so parrot their talking points. As far as questions I usually seek out someone with expertise in the subject. You stated “A union’s purpose is to support workers in workplace issues such as safety, working conditions, benefits, wages and workers’rights.” I couldnt agree more & that’s why they need union cuz at $2.83/hr the association isnt delivering. Our parents realized this, how come they were so smart? Any other way I can help, please feel free to ask..

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Tony, for your information being a Union member no longer makes you middle class. Most Blue Collar Union members no longer are even though many think they are. It is the 6 figure income before loopholes that makes the White Collar middle class. When the sheeple figure out they are no longer in the club, things will change.

  • tony says:

    March 7, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Hi Bill, your right. We are returning to the Victorian era when the middleclass were the small business owners. It was the rise of the unions that raised the income of the working poor to where they could call themselves middleclass. The people gave up their unions & since 1980 our income has fallen or stayed flat, where the 1% saw a 600% increase in income. When Democrats re-learn the ability to point this out, the “sheeple” will rise again…