The Policies in Play series takes a closer look at the recently passed state legislative policies that affect early care and education. We work with partners to find out what these policies look like in action and how they impact Minnesota children and families.

Five child care programs in Northeastern Minnesota are receiving a boost from state funds. The Northland Foundation received a grant from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to increase availability of child care in the region.

While a child care shortage is a problem statewide, the Northland’s situation is especially shocking. The Northland Foundation serves the communities of Northeastern Minnesota which include Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, an St. Louis counties. In that region, over 80% of moms work. A 55% growth in child care slots is needed to meet the demands of families with children six and younger, which is the highest in the state. Additionally, the poverty rate for children under 5 is significant, around 25%. While an increase in access is urgent, it is especially important that those openings are high-quality, in order to give vulnerable children a great start.

Northland Foundation region (in blue).

Northland Foundation has a history of supporting early learning in the region. Since 2013, they have supported the implementation of Parent Aware. They developed an infant and early childhood mental health collaborative, Thrive Initiative. Northland also administers Early Learning Scholarships for the region. When they saw the opportunity to apply for the DEED grants, they were ready to respond.

The DEED grants are the result of legislation passed in 2016.  Acknowledging that many communities are losing child care providers at rapid rates, legislators directed a total of $500,000 to support child care in Greater Minnesota.  Applicants had to propose ways “to increase the supply of quality child care providers in order to support regional economic development”. Northland was one of eight programs to receive money. They were awarded $125,000 from DEED and leveraged an additional $227,500 in public and private investments. The funds will support five child care projects in the area, with a goal of expanding available child care slots by 106.

Four of the projects are child care centers, located in Tower-Soudan, Two Harbors, Esko, and Duluth. A family child care provider in McGregor will also receive funds. All programs receiving the grants are Parent Aware-rated or plan to become rated.

The partnership with the programs includes more than just the funds to improve the physical spaces. Northland partnered with First Children’s Finance to offer technical assistance for business planning.

The DEED grants and resulting projects will help increase access to quality child care for families in Northeastern Minnesota. Northland recognizes, however, that there is significant need for additional flexible financial resources and technical assistance to support start-up, expansion, and facility modifications. There is also more work to do to ensure that the child care workforce is well-trained and fairly compensated.

By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator