By Katie Akin, Iowa Capital Dispatch
Subcommittee advances staffing ratio, child care assistance changes
One employee at an Iowa child care center could oversee more 2- or 3-year-old children under a newly proposed bill in the House.
House Study Bill 511 would change the mandatory ratio of staff to students in Iowa child care centers. The governor’s task force on child care recommended changing the ratios as a way to increase the number of available child care slots without hiring additional workers.
Currently, child care facilities are required to have one worker for every six 2-year-olds. For 3-year-olds, the current ratio is one worker per eight children.
The proposal would increase the number of kids allowed per employee. Under the bill, the maximum ratio would be one child care worker for every eight 2-year-olds, or one worker for every 10 3-year-olds.
“This is a ceiling, not a requirement,” said Rep. Ann Meyer, chair of the House Human Resources Committee.
Janee Harvey, a Department of Human Services division administrator, agreed that child care centers would need to exercise “reasonable and prudent decision-making” under the new rules.
Harvey said DHS recommended a slightly different change to ratios for 2-year-olds: one worker for every seven students, instead of eight. She noted many 2-year-olds were still toilet training and biting, requiring some extra supervision.
Opponents to the bill argued that increasing the ratios might exhaust already-strained employees, causing them to leave the industry entirely.
“If we burn out folks, we will not be able to replace them at the low wages and the low benefits we provide,” said Dave Stone, a lobbyist for United Way of Central Iowa.
The House subcommittee advanced the bill, clearing the way for its consideration in committee.
The same subcommittee also advanced a proposal to allow child care providers to charge a co-pay with state child care assistance. This is another proposal from the governor’s task force.
Iowa’s child care assistance (CCA) program is available to low-income families where parents are employed, attending school or looking actively for work. The state reimburses child care providers between 50% and 75% of the market rate on behalf of that family.
The task force reported that the state’s current system “can be a disincentive for child care providers to accept children receiving CCA,” as they could make more money by accepting only children who can pay the full rate without state assistance.
House Study Bill 510 would allow providers to accept the state assistance, then charge parents the difference between the reimbursement and what another family would pay without assistance.
Harvey, with DHS, argued the change could shut out poor Iowans from the system. Harvey said 60% of families who receive CCA are below the federal poverty line.
“We want the working poor to remain in the marketplace, and in order to do that, they need childcare,” Harvey said.
The subcommittee advanced the bill. Meyer again emphasized that the change would be voluntary for providers.
“This is not going to be a requirement,” she said. “CCA spots at their current pay rate will be available.”