Simplified: Both the city and state are looking at ways to address the challenges facing the childcare industry and, subsequently, parents. This week brought news of grant funds, progress toward scholarships and ongoing meetings of a statewide childcare task force.

Why it matters

  • In a nutshell, the childcare crisis is essentially the gap between what childcare actually costs to provide and what parents can actually afford to pay. That leaves childcare workers earning some of the lowest wages in the state, according to research from the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative.
  • The Sioux Falls Regulatory Oversight Committee has been working since the start of the year on priorities for addressing the crisis from a city government perspective. On Tuesday, the City Council advanced the first of those proposals – a $450,000 scholarship program to help grow the childcare workforce.
  • Meanwhile, this week the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) awarded a more than $284,000 grant to a group of Sioux Falls organizations looking to help more people open in-home daycares citywide.
"We need to inspire the next generation of childcare workers by saying, 'Hey this is a career field we want you to go into and explore,'" Councilor Rich Merkouris said.

Tell me more about the scholarship program

The city would provide $450,000 to fund scholarships for students at Southeast Tech who are pursuing a career in early childhood education.

Because wages are low for childcare workers, it can be hard to justify the cost of higher education. That's where the scholarships would come in.

  • Merkouris said he sees the city-funded scholarships as a "bridge" while the city works with the state and see if it'll include childcare among the options for students who receive a Build Dakota full-ride scholarship.
"This affirms this as a career choice saying, this isn't just kind of a side job that you do, but working in the childcare industry is a career that you can have and feel good about," Merkouris said. "We want to lift it up as a community."

What else is the city working on?

In addition to the scholarship program, the council also advanced a proposal to spend $75,000 on a professional service agreement to hire someone to research some other objectives the council has.

Those objectives include:

  • identifying regulatory changes or economic incentives to create more in-home daycares,
  • develop a "tri-share" pilot program (similar to what's happening in Rapid City),
  • and find ways to be more effective and efficient with existing state and federal childcare assistance funds.

Tell me more about the GOED grant

There are quite a few players involved in this one, including:

  • Startup Sioux Falls,
  • Lutheran Social Services (LSS),
  • Helpline Center,
  • Sioux Falls Thrive,
  • City of Sioux Falls,
  • and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

The grant funds will be used to support Startup Sioux Falls' efforts to help aspiring childcare entrepreneurs.

  • They'll do that through a Co.Starters two-day weekend bootcamp, as well as a 10-week, cohort-based Co.Starters Care Business Program.
  • The goal of the programs is to help folks who want to start childcare businesses to develop sustainable business plans.

Grant funds will also support training courses at LSS in childcare and entrepreneurship for multilingual learners of English.

If everything goes well, this grant and the resulting partnership could create up to 91 new in-home daycares and more than 1,000 spots for kids.

Tell me more about the statewide childcare task force

The group is made up of two dozen folks including state lawmakers, business leaders, parents and childcare providers.

  • Its first meeting took place April 8 in Brookings.
“We know that childcare is critical to both the state’s prosperity and the workforce participation of thousands of South Dakotan parents,” Brookings' State Senator Tim Reed said in a news release. “It’s time we take a careful look at what we might do to better support access and quality across the state and to explore commonsense reforms that might better enable the state to meet the needs of its children, families and employers.”

The task force plans to meet three more times across the state before coming up with a final report and recommendations in December.

What happens next?

The statewide task force will keep meeting throughout the rest of the year.

The GOED grant will go through the various organizations working to implement it.

The City Council will have a final vote on the scholarship program later this month.