SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Members of the Sioux Falls City Council called for more discussion and state aid on any possible solutions to ease the burden of child care on families.
The topic of child care was discussed by six of the eight city council members while weighing a possible $100,000 amendment to the more than $800 million 2024 city budget to create an office of child and youth development into the city health department.
The amendment was brought forward by Pat Starr and received a second by Greg Neitzert, who said he wanted to hear discussion on the topic. Seven of the eight city council members spoke on the amendment before it was voted against by a 6-2 margin.
Netizert said he believed city government will have to play a role in the future of child care but wasn’t ready to support the $100,000 to create a new office of city government yet.
“There’s a gap that has to be filled. The state should have a role too. I’m not going to hold my breath that they’re going to step up on that,” Neitzert said. “I wish they would.”
Currently, the Sioux Falls Health Department only oversees in-home child care registrations and inspections within city limits, while the South Dakota Department of Social Services oversees child care financial assistance as well as state registered, state licensed and unregulated child care providers.
South Dakota is one of a handful of states that does not have any state funding toward early childhood education or child care funding.
Starr admitted he had not worked closely with the city health department on specifics of what the office of child and youth development would look like. Creating an official, accredited office of child and youth development was one of the main takeaways from a months-long study and 97-page report on child care released by the Sioux Falls Child Care Collaborative.
Starr said approving $100,000 for an office of youth and child development would start the conversation.
“This is us saying that child care and how we do it in our community is a priority,” Starr said. “This is not for a specific FTE (full-time employee). It’s not designated for that. It could be for additional study, it could be for whatever we move forward as both the health department in partnership with the community of what we want these funds to be used for.”
Council member Rich Merkouris said he’s extremely passionate about child care challenges that exist but wanted defined responsibilities with any position. He said the business model of child care requires a third party instead of just parents and providers.
“There’s got to be dollars inserted somewhere in the equation to make it work,” Merkouris said. “We need a whole plan to come forward – a childcare position, funding that can help with childcare overall and some strategic plan. I don’t see that in this.”
Council member David Barranco said conversations around child care solutions can continue without creating the office of youth and child development.
“I think it’s something that we should be paying attention to, something that we should be studying and something we should be brainstorming solutions,” Barranco said.
Council members Alex Jensen and Marshall Selberg also agreed more discussion on the topic of child care is needed.
“There’s no measurable goals,” Jensen said about the amendment. “I won’t be supporting this but I do support anything that we can do to move child care in a positive direction.”
Council member Curt Soehl joined Starr in voting yes, while Barranco, Jensen, Merkouris, Neitzert, Selberg and council member Sarah Cole voted against.
Michelle Erpenbach, president of Sioux Falls Thrive, met with city council members in August and highlighted how Sioux Falls has 12,260 licensed child care slots and there’s 12,904 children with all available parents in the workforce.
Erpenbach said the comments from council members were a positive step despite no action taken.
“They want to learn more,” Erpenbach said in an emailed statement. “Members of the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative have been working on this topic for years and doing specific research over the last several months.”
“The community knows the solutions are in joint efforts among parents, businesses and government at all levels. SFCC members will continue to foster conversations around this topic, and help government leaders understand their role in this workforce development issue,” Erpenbach said.