Simplified: There's a chance Apple Tree's childcare centers won't need to close after all, according to a report from SiouxFalls.Business. But even if funders are found to save the centers in the short-term, childcare advocates agree more long-term, systemic solutions are needed to address the ongoing crisis in Sioux Falls.

Why it matters

  • The announcement late last week that Apple Tree was closing all four of its Sioux Falls childcare centers sparked a firestorm of community conversations about how to find spots for the hundreds of kids who were about to be displaced.
  • Within a few days, businessman and former Apple Tree Director Pete Nelson agreed to take on the financial responsibility to keep Apple Tree West open. Current Director Amy Huff said that announcement also meant kids who were at the center's location on Valhalla Boulevard would be able to move over to Apple Tree West – essentially saving two of the four centers.
  • It's good news for dozens, if not hundreds of families. But as the Sioux Falls community continues to grow and the needs of both families and childcare providers grow with it, the city is going to need more sustainable solutions, said Michelle Erpenbach, president of Sioux Falls Thrive.
"There are people out there who are seriously considering whether they should have kids or not now," Erpenbach said.

Tell me more about the crisis

There are a lot of data points out there illustrating how challenging it is for parents to find (and afford) child care, including the following from the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative.

  • It costs more in one year to send your kid to a childcare center in Sioux Falls than it would to send them to a South Dakota state university.
  • In order for childcare to be to be "affordable" by federal definitions, a family would have to make more than $163,000 annually for one child. That's nearly two and a half times the median household income in Sioux Falls.

And those just show the crisis parents are facing.

Oof, ok so what about providers?

Staffing is a major challenge.

  • The collaborative found that the childcare industry as a whole saw 88% turnover in South Dakota in 2021.
  • It's also relevant to note that childcare workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the state, with an average hourly wage of less than $13 an hour as of last spring.
  • Most childcare providers say they could open up slots to care for more children, but there's no one to fill their open jobs.

In fact, Huff said Apple Tree's closure announcement comes down to one primary challenge: staffing.

"None of the centers were really full because we couldn't take the kids because we didn't have the staff," Huff told Sioux Falls Simplified.

At one point in her 22-year career in the childcare industry, Huff said she'd have four or five applicants for each open position. Now, she's got five positions and maybe one applicant. Even if that applicant isn't the best fit, she's got to make it work, she said.

What happens next?

Apple Tree owner Randy Stewart told SiouxFalls.Business he's feeling confident people will step forward to invest and save the two remaining locations.

That said, if you're a parent in need of help finding childcare, the 2-1-1 Helpline Center has been finding openings around the city and helping dozens of parents, according to Betsy Schuster, vice president of program development.

There are also Sioux Falls City Council members who are looking to start more intentional discussions about childcare solutions. You can find more on the response from public officials here:

Sioux Falls has options to solve its childcare crisis. Will the city’s elected leaders help?
Elected officials are divided on how to help – and if the city even has a role to play at all.

Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative has a 97-page report detailing the childcare crisis and outlining specific, actionable solutions. You can find that report (and much more data on the childcare challenges in Sioux Falls) here.