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Reynolds signs bill allowing child care workers to watch more children

The new law raises the child-to-staff ratio for 2 and 3-year-olds, and allows16 and 17-year-olds to work for child care providers without supervision

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Thursday that will relax some staffing regulations for Iowa child care centers.

"When I convened the governor’s child care task force last year, one of the things that it discovered was that Iowa’s child care staffing ratios were some of the most restrictive in the country," Reynolds said at the bill signing Thursday at the Association of Business and Industry conference in Dubuque, "and so the task force and recommended new minimum child-staff ratios and the bill I’m going to sign today does just that."

The new law will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to provide child care for school-age children without additional supervision. Previously, child care workers had to be 18 years old to work unsupervised.

It will also raise the maximum number of toddlers a single provider is allowed to care for to one worker for every seven 2-year-olds and one worker for every 10 3-year-olds. That’s an increase from current rules that allow one worker to care for no more than six 2-year-olds or eight 3-year-olds.

Democrats and many child care professionals say these measures won’t help fix thechild care shortage and could reduce the quality of child care in Iowa.

Kelly Donnelly left her job in early June after 12 years as the director of Grace Preschool in Des Moines. She said she was helping cover for classroom teachers and would leave at naptime to go to the Statehouse and speak out against these bills.

“They were like getting hit by tennis balls while you’re trying to play a game,” Donnelly said. “You’re just dodging left and right.”

And she said the pandemic has led to developmental delays in kids and increased stress for teachers, parents and children.

“I haven’t seen one teacher or one director or one principal that’s like, ‘Yeah, we love that increased ratio and…less funding,’” Donnelly said. “And instead of making a pay raise for teachers, let’s just, you know, make more stress, and the quality for the children—it’s just going to go down and down.”

She said when she left her position, Grace Preschool was still waiting to receive funding from the state that was promised to certain preschool programs in the spring of 2021. Donnelly said she hopes lawmakers pass better child care bills next time.

Reynolds signed a separate bill into law Monday that will allow low-income families receiving child care assistance to enter an agreement with a child care center to pay more for care.

Supporters say it will help make up the gap between what the state pays providers and what providers charge those who don’t get assistance. Opponents of the new law say families who get child care assistance can’t afford to pay more, and that the policy could lead child care centers to pressure families into paying more.

Zachary Oren Smith contributed to this story.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter