This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Property tax breaks for in-home child care providers has been discussed but not passed by the legislature.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – More than one year after $100 million in federal funding was awarded for child care in South Dakota, one advocate believes progress continues to be made on the issue. 

The biggest change for Kayla Klein, former child care provider turned advocate, has been the amount of organization among child care providers as well as relationships and collaboration with businesses and economic development offices. 

Klein, director of Early Learner South Dakota and one of the state’s first registered lobbyists for child care advocacy, is working on the issue through a new collaborative organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.  

“We have never had a cross-sector relationship with advocacy in our field before,” Klein said. “Seeing businesses and economic development offices come together to support the early learning field, I think that helps our providers, our advocates and other stakeholders just feel that support.” 

The Statewide Childcare Business Collaborative held its first of two meetings on Thursday in Sioux Falls. The meeting focused on connecting businesses and economic development offices on ways to find child care solutions. 

Klein said South Dakota continues to be in a child care crisis ever since the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the unsustainable business model of child care. 

“We had a gentleman from Salem the other day and they need a place for 60 kids,” Klein told KELOLAND News. “It’s definitely not a one community problem. It’s an array of issues. From needing facilities to having more teachers willing to kind of step into the field so they can have more kids in the facilities they already have.” 

Klein said more than 40 people from eastern South Dakota attended Thursday’s meeting and another 25 attended via Zoom. She said examples of various solutions already in place in different communities were shared during the meeting. 

They included companies starting on-site child care centers, possible property tax breaks for in-home providers if passed by the state legislature, collaborations of philanthropists, employers and local leaders for creative solutions. 

“We’re not necessarily reinventing the wheel, we’re sharing what’s already happening, so more businesses can take that on around South Dakota,” Klein said. “One example is businesses offering a $5,000 stipend to an employee and paying the childcare director directly and so it’s not coming off of the employee’s annual wage.” 

In Sioux Falls, the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative hired two coordinators — Rana DeBoer and Nicole Fluth — to oversee a 6-month initiative to come up with some real answers. In six months, they hope to have some solutions or at least a roadmap to available and affordable child care in Sioux Falls.

Paying for care, keeping prices affordable 

The business model of higher wages for child care workers paid solely by fees on parents has been exposed, Klein said. 

“That’s what’s so hard in this industry,” Klein said. “There really has to be something we can do to make sure that we’re paying childcare providers the wage that they deserve and need.” 

That’s why Klein said the more than $32 million that has been sent from the Department of Social Services to state-registered and licensed child care providers has provided a lifeline to providers in the industry. Klein said DSS has done a good group listening and coming up with a way to spend an additional $38 million.  

“There was focus on workforce in child care, startup grants, expansion grants and streamlining the process to make licensing easier,” Klein said. “The strong relationships that we already have with the Department of Social Services and the governor’s office will be vital.” 

Klein said Gov. Kristi Noem’s budget request to cover 100% of paid family leave for state employees and requests to incentive businesses for paid family leave options is a vital part of solving some of the child care problems. 

“There was really no paid leave for quite some time and it’s really been a recent thing,” Klein said. “We as advocates would love to see paid family leave really be a goal for the child care sector.”