By Amanda Rooker
DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) — Iowa House Study Bill 511 would change the ratio of staff to students, increasing the number of kids allowed per employee. It would allow one worker to be able to watch eight 2-year-olds instead of six. It would also allow one worker to watch 10 3-year-olds instead of eight.
Republicans say this bill would help more toddlers get spots in child care centers. But some teachers say it’s unrealistic and unsafe.
“It’s terrifying. The idea of higher ratios scares me to death,” Jennifer Cook said. Cook has worked in the child care industry for over 25 years.
She said educating the next generation is an important job and one she loves. But she said she can’t do it effectively if she’s managing 8 to 10 toddlers by herself.
“Lower numbers gives me more time to give individual time to each child. When those babies are with me. They’re my babies, I’m going to take care of them. And I can’t do that when there’s so many. It’s overwhelming,” Cook said.
Other child care advocates worry the extra burden will push more workers to quit when centers are already struggling to find staff. “These increased ratios could further exacerbate the workforce shortage and burn people up quicker,” E.J. Wallace said. Wallace is the mobilization manager for Save The Children Action Network.
“How far are lawmakers going to stretch educators to their breaking point?” Johanna Campbell asked. She works as a child care provider at Grace Preschool in Des Moines.
“They are not slots. They are not moneybags. They are children. They have emotions. They have needs. To simply treat them as a slot is disgusting,” Campbell said.
But Rep. Ann Meyers, Republican lawmaker and advocate of the bill, argued that there are more than 30 other states that already have higher staffing ratios than Iowa’s. And she said the bill doesn’t require centers to add more kids, it just gives them more flexibility.
“It’s not mandatory. We’re not saying every class has to go up to this size. It’s voluntary,” Meyers said. “If the center feels they can do that safely, they’ll have the regulatory relief to do that.”
But Grace Preschool director Kelly Donnelly said many centers don’t have that choice. “Centers are closing left and right. People will go to those lower ratios and give lower quality care,” Donnelly said.
“We’re creating a situation where providers are forced to either accept maybe less safe conditions or close,” Wallace added. “There isn’t enough spots, but spots are kids, there are human beings and they are developed, they need developmentally appropriate situations.”
She said instead of changing ratios, investing in child care staff and giving them more financial support would keep doors open and kids safe.
“We should be adding more humans, more adults to help versus taking them away just because we’re having a problem hiring. The reason we’re having a problem hiring is because we don’t pay well enough, there’s not enough financial support.”
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