(The Center Square) – The Iowa Senate passed a bill Monday, by a 32 to 18 party-line vote, that allows child care centers to increase child-to-staff ratios.
If the Iowa House of Representatives and Gov. Kim Reynolds approve the bill, SF 2268, the Department of Human Services would require a minimum child-to-staff ratio of one child care worker per seven two-year-olds and one child care worker for every 10 three-year-olds, which would take effective immediately.
State Senator Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, proposed an amendment requiring child care centers to provide a 30-day written notice to children’s parents that they plan to increase the child-to-staff ratio.
“This amendment provides parents with parental choice and consent so they can make a good decision on the care of their children,” she said.
State Senator Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said the notice period would allow parents time to find an alternative they believe is safe.
State Senator Sarah Trone-Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, said the waiting period is particularly important for parents of children with autism or other developmental disabilities or behavioral or emotional needs.
State Senator Jeff Edler, R-State Center, said the amendment is contrary to the intention of the bill, which seeks to reduce government burden on the centers. He said he believed day care providers, who are not mandated to change the ratios, would be responsible in their staffing decisions.
“We are empowering [day care centers] to possibly help get one more parent to work because they can take one more child,” he said.
He said the current system allows day care centers to apply to be exempt from the ratio and the bill would allow them to bypass applying for the waiver.
Jochum said after the amendment failed that the bill would not address the state’s workforce crisis, and it may even exacerbate the situation.
Edler said the bill was a compromise as the Senate study bill had proposed a minimum child-to-staff ratio of one to every eight 2-year-olds and the ratios proposed in the bill are seen in other states.
Federal guidelines for child care centers are a one to six toddlers (one- to three-year-old children) to staff ratio with a maximum group size of 12 and one to 10 for preschoolers (three years to five years) with a cap of 20 per group.
Minnesota requires a maximum one staff member per seven two-year-olds ratio, with a maximum class size of 14 children and a one to 10 staff-to-child ratio for three-year-olds with a maximum class size of 20.
In Illinois, the minimum staff-to-child ratios are one staff member to eight two-year-olds with maximum group size of 16 and one staff member per 10 three-year-olds with maximum group size of 20 children.
The state of Iowa announced in January almost $37 million will be spent on opening nearly 5,200 new child care slots. The awards will fund 108 projects in 72 communities, an Iowa Workforce Development news release said. About $6.7 million comes from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.