SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Last year, state lawmakers approved $100 million in federal funding for state-regulated child care providers in South Dakota.
This year, there’s only been one bill involving the topic of child care and it was tabled. The lack of legislation comes even after Gov. Kristi Noem acknowledged the issue in her State of the State address.
“Families might have to go on a waitlist for months. One parent may have to stop working for the time being,” Noem said in her speech. “In the coming days, we will be completing an overhaul of our child care rules and regulations. We’ve been working closely with child care providers to rewrite these rules in a way that makes sense – while prioritizing the safety of our kids.”
In its meeting with lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Appropriations, officials with the Department of Social Services said the three targets to help child care are workforce, access and affordability. DSS also has $38 million in discretionary funding from the American Rescue Plan Act that must be spent by September 2024.
Any child care provider caring for 12 or more children is required by the state to become registered, so many smaller in-home daycare providers don’t register with the state. It makes the task of understanding capacity for child care hard to find.
Leaders in both the Republican Party and Democratic Party were asked about the issue of child care in a news conference Thursday in Pierre.
“This is what our caucus is talking about. It’s the toughest issues facing every South Dakotan. That’s where we’re spending our time,” Republican Sen. Casey Crabtree told reporters. “We see the fact that we don’t have ample daycare in any place. We also don’t understand exactly what our role, as a legislature, should be in making that happen.”
Crabtree said a summer study has been proposed to look at the issue of child care and there’s support from Senators on that topic. He said the problem is there’s not a good idea on how to address what the child care model looks like in the future.
“We’re talking about models in the future that look different,” Crabtree said. “We don’t have the money to fund things frivolously. We have to find a model that will work far into the future. Right now, that idea isn’t showing itself. We’re hoping the industry will come together with what that model looks like. Then we’ll find where we fit into that, if at all.”
Republican Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt said there’s a lot of different ways to solve a problem like child care. She said a summer study should allow business professionals and the daycare industry to add input and add quality measures to best care for kids.
“You have to look at it all together and not just in little pieces which is why the bill was tabled earlier this week,” Rehfeldt said.
Democrat Sen. Reynold Nesiba said child care is his No. 1 priority for a summer study area. He said the issue is a crisis in Sioux Falls and noted South Dakota’s high rate of working parents.
“If you want high quality, affordable child care that pays a living wage, the state has to subsidize it,” Nesiba said. “I’m hoping that a summer study helps us reach that conclusion.”
Nesiba also brought up pre-Kindergarten education, child care and after school care all together. Democrat Rep. Oren Lesmeister said impressions can be made on children at an early age through quality child care.
“We need to start providing better,” Lesmeister said. “The people that do it in this state are doing the absolute best they can with the resources they have.”
Lesmeister said there wasn’t support around paid family leave in Pierre a couple of years ago but that is now being supported. He said the same can happen with child care.
“Maybe there is a change happening,” Lesmeister said.
Crabtree cautioned about the summer study on child care, saying it needs to have a specific focus. He said summer studies only work with a clear vision.
“If you have it too broad, we don’t end up with results and that’s why we’re here,” Crabtree said.