See more of the story

Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


A recent commentary, "Minnesota's child care crisis is government-made" (Aug. 1), paints a dramatically incomplete picture of the challenges facing the early care and education (ECE) sector. In arguing for loosening health and safety regulations, it takes a simplistic approach that ignores the research-backed benefits.

We couldn't agree more that access to high-quality ECE is fundamental to a well-functioning economy. As members of the Governor's Council on Economic Expansion, we note that our recent report, "Minnesota's Moment: A roadmap for equitable economic expansion" argues that increasing access to child care all across Minnesota is essential to creating a thriving economy in the next 10 years.

Young children do not just need a physical space in which to be looked after. They need a high-quality setting that promotes their development and is run by an educated and fairly compensated workforce. The way to improve affordability is not through cutting wages and reducing quality. Minnesota's staffing ratios are in line with national guidelines created to ensure children have enough adults available to take care of their needs — physical, social, emotional and academic. Lower ratios tie directly to better outcomes for children. States with higher ratios rank lower in child well-being.

These children are, after all, our future workforce.

The state's ECE workforce does not receive "high wages" as a result of regulation, as the recent commentary suggests. The median wages of this workforce are below that of any other occupation requiring the same level of education in Minnesota and well below the cost of living — in the fourth quarter of 2021, the median wage was just $11.65 per hour, and up to $4 per hour less than that in rural areas. In this tight labor market, child care providers are increasingly unable to recruit and retain staff.

The commentary also incorrectly suggests these educators should be caring for more children while being paid even less.

Regulatory reform is important, and it can be accomplished without sacrificing child safety and development. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is leading an effort to support three components of licensing regulation modernization: abbreviated licensing inspections, risk-based tiered violation systems and revised licensing standards.

The real issue to be addressed is a lack of investment in the critical earliest years of children's lives. Our 10-year economic road map is full of ideas on how to do that, namely:

• Funding incentives to increase child care programs, including extended-hours care, culturally and linguistically affirming care, rural care, and infant care.

• Expanding the Child Care Assistance Program and Early Learning Scholarship program to ensure that all eligible families can access the programs.

• Expanding child care business and provider supports, including tax credits, loan forgiveness and subsidies that support diverse business models.

• Implementing a fully refundable child tax credit to help families cover the cost of care.

These solutions can be a win for families and for the economy, from Kittson County in the far northwest, to Hennepin County, to Houston County in the far southeast. Research shows significant financial returns to the public from investing in high-quality ECE — between 7 and 13% per year on every dollar spent. Programs that result in the highest returns on investment are those with well-paid and well-prepared teachers, low child-teacher ratios and a research-based curriculum.

State leaders, including advocates, economists, parents, and the ECE workforce have worked for years to present needed investments. The governor's budget proposal last year would have provided huge relief to families.

We have real solutions available to the child care crisis, and we must act now. Minnesota's future depends on investments in our kids.

Penny Wheeler is former CEO of Allina Health. Traci Tapani is co-president of Wyoming Machine. Tuleah Palmer is president at Blandin Foundation.