I was invited this past week to visit Ellington, a community in one of the counties I will pick up come January due to the redistricting process. They wanted to show me how the community, county, and businesses came together to resolve a long-running workforce issue they had––a shortage of childcare.
First of all, I’m going to start by letting you know the drive was incredible. Driving in the fall through the rolling Ozark hills is such an incredible display of God’s artistic eye.
I’m a girl from the “flatlands”, meaning Sikeston–or anywhere Sikeston south through the bootheel of Missouri. So, I’ve really enjoyed adding some of the “hill country” to my legislative district since 2020. Now with Iron and Reynolds being added come 2023, I’ll have the prettiest, and most diverse, senate district in the state. Not a brag, just being honest.
Well…maybe a slight brag.
Ellington sits in Reynolds County. Reynolds County has a population of just over 6,000. A seemingly small population for a county, but they host a long list of impressive businesses, international even, including industry from rich natural resources like mining and timber. The Chamber of Commerce is extremely active. My invitation came from the past President of the Chamber, and current Vice-President, Christy Roberts. Christy serves on several boards, has been a business owner in the county for many years, knows all things Reynolds County, and honestly, is just a seriously cool lady, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Right out of the gate, it was obvious to me that the Ellington Chamber works hard to keep their businesses engaged in the needs of the community, and vis versa. In fact, between the Chamber and the local businesses, Ellington and Reynolds County gets along pretty darn well for a community that sits 60 miles from the nearest Walmart.
Their secret seems to be that the folks of Reynolds County work together to solve their own problems. It’s honestly the rural way of life in one of its finest displays. Pulling together to find a solution to their own problems is exactly what happened when business leaders started discussing their hiring and retention issues with the Ellington Chamber of Commerce.
My guess is, that most of y’all reading this just sat back and sighed thinking, “Yep, I’ve been hearing about staffing issues all over the state since COVID,” and honestly, I have too. However, COVID is not what started it in Ellington. Reynolds County had a serious daycare shortage, but that shortage was identified, and worked on, well before 2020 and COVID.
We can all understand that without proper daycare, people have trouble holding their jobs and businesses have trouble keeping staff. During my visit to Ellington, I had my eyes opened to a few more issues that have fed into this shortage. Issues that had never been mentioned to me before. I think it’s important to share these with you, as well as some additional information, as we all work to make our communities, and workforce, stronger.
2019 was the first full year of implementation for Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) and the Child Care Development Block Grant Program (CCDBG). These federal programs gave opportunities to schools to begin offering before and after-school programs, as well as summer programs to students. These programs have really been an asset to parents struggling to make ends meet. They are also a safety net for at-risk kids. The issue, however, is that the introduction of these important programs removed many school-age children from local daycares.
Removing the school-age children from the equation started messing with private daycare’s business plans. Keep in mind, daycares are just that–businesses. They have to make money, just like any other business, or they won’t stay open. Before this change took place, the older children, because of the child/staff ratio requirements, offset the high cost of caring for babies (children under 2-yrs). You have fewer staff requirements for the older children, which helps you keep your prices competitive and prices that working parents can afford.
Daycare costs have been high as long as I can remember. It’s a substantial portion of any family budget that has to use outside childcare. When I was a young Mama, making $3.35 an hour minimum wage, I paid $65 dollars a week to have my daughter in daycare. That big chunk, about 49% out of my check each week, made it impossible to make the rest of our bills. There was no way that we could live alone, just the two of us. That scenario hasn’t gotten much better in the past 30+ years. The minimum wage is currently $11.15 an hour, and, for example, my daughter pays $180 a week for my granddaughter who is potty trained and two years old. That equates to 40% of a person’s paycheck making minimum wage and working 40 hours a week.
Now that we’ve established that the cost of daycare has always seemed high, daycares are not making bank. State regulations on the staff/child ratios dictate a good portion of their costs, which in turn, dictates how much they have to charge to stay afloat. Here is a link to the state’s Office of Childhood, in case you’d like to learn more on the current requirements, and staff/child ratios, for Missouri daycares–click here.
I am one who is in favor of giving a hand-up, not so much a hand-out, to those who can help themselves. That has been the thought process behind the state’s program to help subsidize childcare for low-income families who are working or going to school. We have seen many cases where parents would need to quit and stay home because they simply couldn’t afford to work and pay daycare expenses. When you help folks stay in jobs, they are filling that spot in the workforce, they are not on as many government programs, and they are paying taxes. Not to mention the many blessings that come with the feeling of being self-reliant. All of this helps break the poverty-cycle.
That’s a good thing.
However, just like with the programs I mentioned above, when the government reaches in to help, it tosses a kink in the system. Where childcare subsidies are concerned, the state covers so much of the daily rate, and the parent or guardian covers the remaining amount. That’s great, the daycare gets the full day rate, just a little more paperwork involved.
For a daycare to run as a successful business, each child has a “spot” that they are taking. This all goes back to those ratios. You staff your daycare business by how many “spots” you have filled. If a child is sick and doesn’t show up for two days, the business owner/childcare provider still has the same amount of staff that they have to pay. This is the reason that parents are required to pay for the full week–regardless of the days that their child misses. It holds your “spot”.
The problem is that the state doesn’t do that. If a child in the state’s subsidized program misses, the state does not pay for that day. Again, causing a business model that once worked to now be unworkable.
Children in the state’s foster care system are on a slightly different plan than the one above. Daycares are only allowed to charge about ½ of what their actual costs are per day for these kids, forcing private daycare centers to provide a service to the state below their cost. Or they can decide to not take foster kids at all. Which is what most are forced to do.
Those are the three areas brought to my attention during my Reynolds County visit. Since my visit, however, I’ve dug into this important topic a little more. Stay with me for just a bit longer…
I recently had the pleasure of hearing our Lt. Governor, Mike Kehoe, speak at a United WE event in Kansas City. He spoke about being from a single-parent home and the trouble his mother had with daycare. It was evident that he wasn’t just talking about this issue, he truly understood the issue, and cares about finding solutions. Lt. Governor Kehoe then mentioned that in our state, we’d had 30% of our daycares close during COVID.
My mouth must have dropped to the floor.
That’s a lot, y’all. That’s a whole lot.
I checked in with Lt. Governor Kehoe after my visit to Reynolds County to ask about the closure statistic that he had mentioned at the United WE event. I knew that he had been working to help in this space for some time now, so I wanted to find out where I could gain a better understanding of where we are as a state. He pointed me to the work that has been done by United WE. United WE is an organization headquartered in Kansas City that focuses on advancing women’s economic and civic leadership. I’ve been a big fan of theirs for a while now and knew that they commission studies in several areas that affect women, so I popped on over to their website: united-we.org. There, I found a plethora of information, statistics, and research. It’s a really cool website and I recommend you check it out, even if the daycare issue isn’t one that excites you.
Clearly, United WE has delved deep into the daycare issue. With studies showing that women have been disproportionately affected in the workforce by the ramifications of COVID, they have an entire section devoted to the current issues around daycare in our state. Check it out by clicking here. Excellent information and much food for thought.
Daycare for children should be an essential part of any local economic development plan. You cannot successfully staff a plant coming into town that plans to hire 100 people if the new employees are without local childcare options for their children. The Ellington Chamber knew this and started looking outside the box for solutions–well before COVID hit.
Christy Roberts, knowing that I am their incoming Senator, wanted me to see first-hand what they’ve been able to accomplish at the Reynolds Day Center. The situation they, the Chamber of Commerce, had been presented with was little to no daycare for workers. The federal dollars mentioned earlier in this blog, funding after-school programs had dried up the ability for their local daycare businesses to survive.
They were in a serious pickle.
Pulling together dedicated thought leaders, they started a 501(c)(3) and named it the Reynolds County Day Center and have a 10-person board of directors. They began searching, and writing, for local, state, and federal grants. They were approved for one of the state’s Neighborhood Assistance Program grants (NAP) that issues 70% tax credits to an eligible taxpayer who makes a qualified contribution to an approved NAP project. They were also approved for a local grant from the Taum Sauk Fund, a fund set up to help tourism and economic development for the areas affected by the 2005 breach of the Taum Sauk Reservoir. They also reached out to private donors.
They have been creative, they have been inclusive, and they refused to let anything curtail their efforts–including the COVID shutdowns of 2020. They continued their grant writing efforts; they continued working on the building that they had identified as the prime location; and they kept the community and local industries involved. The Reynolds County Day Center opened in November of 2021.