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Iowa senators approve changes to child care ratios

The proposal would increase the number of two and three-year-olds allowed to be cared for by child care staffers.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Following a busy funnel week, Iowa lawmakers on Monday reconvened at the Iowa State Capitol to start debates on  bills that survived. 

One of the first items up was Senate File 2268, a proposal to increase child care ratios across the state. Currently, the state allows one staffer to care for six two-year-olds. The proposal would increase that ratio by one child, allowing one staffer for every seven children. 

For three-year-olds, the proposal would bump up the current ratio of 1-to-8 to 1-to-10.

"This adjustment to Iowa's child care ratio cannot come a moment too soon," said Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, the bill's manager. "As the workforce shortages continue to challenge Iowans, we're providing an outlet for their children so they can return to work."

But other lawmakers believe these extra pupils place extra stress on an industry and their workers that are already overwhelmed.

"How many of you would do this for $10 an hour?" asked Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. "I don't see many hands going up. You want to solve the workforce crisis? Pay them!"

Edler, however, stressed the proposal wouldn't force any day care center to increase their own ratios, rather it would provide them the option to do so if they chose.

"This is voluntary," he said. "So to say this is going to damage kids is absolutely false."

Child care providers say this proposal comes as the industry is already understaffed and overworked. Adding their concern is the centers that do increase their ratios ultimately decreasing the quality of care. 

"It isn't going to make a difference in increasing slots or anything else," said New Horizon Academy Area Director Jeannine Laughlin. "It's going to decrease quality decrease the opportunity for teachers to build relationships, and decrease what we're trying to do as far as early childhood education."

Jochum proposed an amendment to require centers who increase their ratios to provide parents a 30-notice. She believed this would allow parents to make their own choice if that setup was something they still felt comfortable with.

Lawmakers voted down the amendment and approved the legislation. It will now be sent to the House, which is already considering an identical proposal.

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