Gov. Reynolds visits Tama County child care center

PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) displays a map of 2021 Child Care Challenge Fund Grant recipients during her visit to the Little Knights Learning Center in Dysart on Jan. 20.

The children of Little Knights Learning Center (LKLC) in Dysart ended their afternoon naptime a bit early on Jan. 20 in preparation for an important visitor to their rural child care center – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The governor made the trek to Tama County from Des Moines as part of her ongoing efforts to highlight the importance of child care across Iowa’s communities – urban, suburban and rural – while also touting the recommendations of her Child Care Task Force Report, which was released in November of 2021.

The visit kicked off with a quick tour of LKLC’s brand new facility which opened in July of 2021 as part of a $1.4 million fundraising effort on the part of the center’s Board of Directors.

During the tour, Gov. Reynolds passed from room to room, holding a meet-and-greet with the center’s babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, many of whom stared in bewilderment at the governor and the trail of adults accompanying her, including a TV news camera crew.

Following the tour, Gov. Reynolds spent about 20 minutes chatting with and asking questions of Board President Wanda Petersen, Dysart Mayor Tim Glenn, Union Superintendent Travis Fleshner, and several members of LKLC’s board of directors in the center’s before-and-after-school care room.

Petersen – who is also a board member of the nonprofit Dysart Development Corporation – opened the discussion by sharing how LKLC arrived at its current location just around the corner from Dysart-Geneseo Elementary School.

“Our story is – I don’t know how far back to go, we’ll go to 2017 – I received a text from my daughter-in-law that our 15-month-old grandson was going to lose his daycare and the daycares we had in [Dysart] at the time were all full,” Petersen said.

She then detailed the path the community embarked on to bring a child care center to town – a path that involved the school district, the City of Dysart, Farmers Coop Telephone Company, and many other local individuals and partners.

Today LKLC’s 85 child care slots are the only option in Dysart, and most of its rooms have a waiting list — including the infant room, which is full for the next year.

“We’re just trying to highlight, recognize and lift up a community that can come together and recognize the need [for child care],” Reynolds said. “It’s such a great recruitment tool for your businesses, for your schools, for parents to locate [to the community].”

Later in the conversation, Gov. Reynolds asked what the biggest challenges are for LKLC going forward.

“What always has been a challenge and still is a challenge is to get workers. Get staff,” Petersen said.

Gov. Reynolds – above the din of children shrieking in the hallway – responded by mentioning an early childhood education apprenticeship pilot program for high schoolers currently underway in Council Bluffs.

“We’re not going to be able to wait very long … or we’re going to all be in bigger trouble,” Petersen said.

“I don’t care what industry it is. It is the biggest challenge we face right now,” Gov. Reynolds said of Iowa’s workforce shortage.

The group also brought up the low pay childcare workers receive and how to alleviate the problem without significantly raising the cost of child care for parents.

“I am here because you guys were recognized as being a true leader,” Gov. Reynolds said in her closing comments.

Child-staff ratio requirements legislation

Prior to leaving the center, Gov. Reynolds responded to a question about legislation currently working its way through the Iowa House that would raise the maximum child-staff ratio requirements in Iowa child care centers. House Republicans are sponsoring the bill as a possible permanent solution to both the need for more child care slots and more child care workers.

The proposed legislation would allow a maximum ratio of one staff member to eight children of in a two-year-old room – a change from the current regulation of one staff member for every six children. The legislation would also allow a ratio of one to 10 in a three-year-old room – a change from the current regulation of one staff member for every eight three-year-olds.

“It brings us more in line even with what other states are doing,” Gov. Reynolds said. “We’re way out of line as far as the ratio goes.”

She also shared a table listing the current child-staff ratio requirements in Iowa compared to other states. Raising the two-year-old child-staff ratio to one staff member for every seven or more children would put Iowa in line with at least 9 other states, according to the governor’s data, while raising the three-year-old child-staff ratio to one staff member for every 10 children or more would put Iowa in line with 41 other states.

“It’s an option,” Reynolds said. “[Child care centers] don’t have to do this.”

The legislation draws directly from the list of recommendations in the governor’s Child Care Task Force Report. Members of the task force included representatives from across the business community including Sukup Manufacturing and Wells Fargo, municipalities, community development organizations, the Iowa Women’s Foundation, and child care providers, including both center and home providers.

Current lobbyist declarations registered in support of the legislation include the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the Iowa Alliance of YMCA’s.

Lobbyist declarations registered against the legislation include the labor unions Iowa United Professionals/UE and AFSCME Iowa Council 61, Save the Children Action Network, United Ways of Iowa, United Way of Central Iowa, Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, and Common Good Iowa.

Several chambers of commerce — including Marshalltown’s — along with the Association of Early Childhood Iowa Area Boards and Advocates, Iowa Head Start Association, the League of Women Voters, and several other lobbyist groups remain undecided on the legislation.

LKLC achieves its fundraising goal

Prior to the governor’s visit, LKLC received notice it had received two Iowa Department of Human Services grant awards including the Child Care Challenge Grant Award in the amount of $250,000 and the Investment by Iowans through the Child Care Challenge Grant Award in the amount of $389,830.

The $639,830 in total grant awards put the center’s fundraising efforts over the top and completed LKLC’s $1.4 million capital campaign.

According to Petersen, the funds will be used to help pay building loans — which were secured from both the City of Dysart and Farmers Coop Telephone Company — and build the outdoor playground which includes three separate play areas for different ages, fencing, and shade tarps.


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