Simplified: After months of city discussion and a win for the childcare workforce, it's looking like any future progress toward solving the childcare crisis in Sioux Falls will have to come from the state legislature. That was the tone set by Councilor Rich Merkouris during a press conference Tuesday.

Why it matters

  • The council voted Tuesday evening to authorize a $450,000 scholarship fund to encourage more childcare providers to seek higher education and join the industry – you can find more background on that here.
  • Councilors also supported spending $75,000 on a professional service agreement with Woods Fuller to research specific childcare priorities. The idea is that the research will result in a series of specific recommendations the council can then take to the South Dakota State Legislature, Merkouris said.
  • Historically, though, the state legislature has not supported spending state money on childcare – a sentiment echoed by the state's top politician. Gov. Kristi Noem told a Watertown radio station in December that she "(doesn't) think it’s the government’s job to pay or to raise people’s children for them."
"We need it to not be a Sioux Falls thing," Merkouris said. "I think we need it to be a statewide coalition of support that says, let's do these two or three specific things to make a difference."

Ok, back up. How did we get here?

Presses rewind on the tape. (Or skip this section if you're up-to-speed).

Let's get on the same page about the childcare crisis quick

Ok, real quick – The "childcare crisis" is the gap between what parents can afford to pay for childcare and what it costs to actually provide that care.

  • Right now, childcare professionals are some of the lowest paid people in the state.
  • The only way they could make more money is if childcare centers charge parents more, but right now parents are already paying way more than an "affordable" rate – as defined by the federal government as no more than 7% of your annual income.
    • Spoiler: Childcare costs take a much bigger piece of the budget pie than that for most South Dakota families.
  • To put a really fine point on that: it costs more to pay for a year of childcare than it does to pay for a year of tuition at a state university, according to findings from Sioux Falls Thrive. And meanwhile, most providers aren't earning a living wage.

Now, why is the city talking about this now?

The City Council discussions started in earnest in January, just a few weeks after a local childcare center, Apple Tree, announced it would be closing its doors – leaving hundreds of kids without care.

The city's Regulatory Oversight Committee discussed a list of priorities, as well as the potential to hire a citywide coordinator to focus solely on childcare.

  • Merkouris said today that position is no longer on the table.

Instead, the city is relying on the $75,000 professional service agreement to do more research about the specific childcare needs in Sioux Falls.

Where does the state come in?

The goal is that the research brings forward some specific proposals that the Sioux Falls City Council can take to the state legislature.

That research will focus on:

  • Making it easier for people to open in-home daycares,
  • Seeing if it's feasible to do a "tri-share" model (similar to what's being tested in Rapid City),
  • Looking at ways to make it easier for more families to access existing federal funding for childcare assistance.

What happens next?

Merkouris said the hope is to have research findings by October, so there is time to bring legislative priorities to other South Dakota communities and "build a coalition" around childcare needs.