On a childcare forum hosted last weekend, one provider cited issues with regulation enforcement

I have written before that the childcare industry has been in a crisis in Minnesota for a considerable period of time. Going forward this crisis will be made worse due to the coronavirus pandemic as it has left a lot of providers fragile and has contributed to the shutdown of some providers. Therefore, going forward to tackle the shortage of childcare capacity the state should look into regulation reform.

Therefore, to ensure that existing childcare providers stay in business and that new providers come to the market, the Minnesota legislature should look into loosening some of its stringent laws. Minnesota’s low student to teacher ratios as well as rigorous training standards, for instance, have been cited as contributing factors of high tuition. And Minnesota’s stringent staffing requirements make it hard for providers to find qualified teachers, which potentially leads to a shortage of available capacity.

These are at all not all the regulatory issues facing Minnesota. And in a forum hosted by Mindy Kimmel, who is the DFL candidate for the Minnesota House District 16B seat, and Little Rascals Learning Center on Saturday the 19th, participants shed more light on the regulatory issues that providers face when it comes to providing childcare. According to Jen Eckstein, the owner of Little Rascals Learning Center, certain aspects of regulation make it hard for childcare providers to operate. Among those issues has to do with how regulations are enforced.

Eckstein said it is a challenge for her center to meet the expectation of parents, government and outsiders who don’t understand the full restrictions. She said people without children in daycare sometimes don’t understand the procedure for dealing with behavior issues and that leads to people falsely reporting providers.

In addition, certain broad regulations are hard to follow. A daycare provider is required to have a certain amount and type of toys per child, even if that child is not attending that day. This could mean a child has way too many toy options, but it could also lead to a center being written up for a minor infraction. As an example, she said a center could receive a negative report for missing three build blocks. This would be written up as having “inadequate resources” for a child, which sounds worse than it is.

Meyer asked what the justification was for the toy count.

Eckstein said there were regulations regarding the number of cognitive and manipulative items required per child. A center would be written up for having damaged toys or books. Eckstein said the problem is, these items do get damaged through wear and tear. A toddler will chew on a book cover, and if licensors see a damaged book, that could go on a report.

Ashley Domeier, Assistant Director at Little Rascals, said there can sometimes be different interpretations of the regulations because of the wording. It creates a mixed message. Domeier said some of the gray areas on regulations needed to be fixed. In addition, there are different regulations for at-home providers and daycare centers, which increases confusion.

“We need to be on the same page,” she said.

Eckstein said rule interpretation can change between different licensed inspectors.

All this goes to show that there is room for legislators to act and enact changes that would make it easier for providers to follow regulations by either reducing the number of rules, ensuring rules are not being enforced punitively, or that licensors are consistent when it comes to enforcing the regulation. Addressing all these factors will ensure a more conducive environment for providers to thrive and expand.