VERMILION RESERVATION— State Rep. Peggy Flanagan toured the Bois Forte Head Start facility here on Monday as part of a statewide education tour. Flanagan is seeking the DFL nomination for Minnesota …
VERMILION RESERVATION— State Rep. Peggy Flanagan toured the Bois Forte Head Start facility here on Monday as part of a statewide education tour. Flanagan is seeking the DFL nomination for Minnesota Lt. Governor with current First District Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz.
Flanagan had spoken earlier in the day with educators at the Hibbing High School, but early childhood learning and affordable childcare in rural Minnesota was the focus of her visit to the Lake Vermilion area.
Flanagan, a mother of a five-year-old, said she knows very well the challenges of paying for quality childcare. “For me, the biggest raise I’m likely to get is when he starts kindergarten this fall,” she said.
Flanagan said it’s one of the top issues she hears as she’s been traveling the state during the campaign. “The lack of access to affordable childcare is a real issue,” she said. “We hear it in the urban core, in the suburbs, and in Greater Minnesota,” she said.
At issue is maintaining affordability for parents while guaranteeing sufficient reimbursement for centers so they can afford to hire quality staff.
As the former director of the Children’s Defense Fund in Minnesota and a current DFL legislator, Flanagan said addressing the childcare need was one of her top priorities and she acknowledged that state funding is woefully inadequate. “There were some pretty severe cuts under then-Gov. Pawlenty that we still haven’t dealt with,” she said.
Flanagan, who lives in St. Louis Park, said the cuts have significantly limited funding for the Childcare Assistance Program, or CCAP, leading to long waiting lists for parents to receive funding assistance even when they qualify. “It can be up to two years long,” she said, which sharply limits the program’s effectiveness. She said the program is currently funded at the 25th percentile in Minnesota, and that funding should be increased to at least the 75th percentile to make it accessible to more parents. Flanagan said the current reimbursement level means most centers have to take children enrolled in the program at a loss, which can be difficult given that centers often operate with slim margins.
Flanagan said daycare co-ops may be one way to address the childcare need and she’d like to see more support for such arrangements. Under a daycare co-op, a group of potential in-home care providers could join forces, limiting each one’s financial liability and providing back-up and scheduling flexibility.
Flanagan also noted the challenges of establishing childcare centers, as the licensing and approval process has become more complex, although she said she doesn’t agree with those who want to use that as “an excuse” not to provide more funding. She said technological improvement in state government is needed so that providers can get information and answers more quickly as they move through the licensing process.
The fate of Tower’s Little Eagles Childcare Center, which was forced to close due to lack of available staff, came up in the discussion. Flanagan said that staffing has become a huge issue, particularly in rural areas, where the workforce is often limited. In many cases, that gets back to funding, she said, since centers often have difficulty paying the wages and benefits needed to attract quality staff.
Despite the challenges, Flanagan said the situation must be addressed, or it provides too much stress for families as they try to juggle care options with friends and family. She said an overall solution is necessary. “We have been trying to handle this issue in bits and pieces, but we need to look at it holistically,” she said.