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Iron Range day cares close for Day Without Child Care, rally at Capitol

Early childhood care providers and educators hold a banner at a press conference at Iron Range Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron for national Day Without Child Care on May 13, 2024.
Megan Buffington
/
KAXE
Early childhood care providers and educators hold a banner at a press conference at Iron Range Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron for national Day Without Child Care on May 13, 2024.

Five child care providers shut down Monday to advocate at the Minnesota Legislature for more respect and funding for the industry.

MOUNTAIN IRON — Jay Jensen is a mining engineer on the Iron Range. But on Monday, May 13, he had another job to do.

Jensen took the day off work for “daddy day care” for his 4-year-old daughter. The Jensens’ usual provider, Iron Range Tykes Learning Center, was shut down as part of national Day Without Child Care.

The day care was one of five on the Range that closed, leaving more than 450 families without child care as providers and educators traveled to the Minnesota State Capitol to rally and speak with legislators.

Jay Jensen speaks at a news conference at Iron Range Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron for national Day Without Child Care on May 13, 2024. Jensen took the day off work to care for his 4-year-old daughter.
Megan Buffington
/
KAXE
Jay Jensen speaks at a news conference at Iron Range Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron for national Day Without Child Care on May 13, 2024. Jensen took the day off work to care for his 4-year-old daughter.

Shawntel Gruba, Iron Range Tykes owner, said the region is already a child care desert, making a day without child care on the Range even more impactful.

“And mining is one of our nation’s biggest resources. So, without us, miners cannot go to work, suppliers of mines cannot go to work,” she said. “So what is going to happen to our communities and our economies if they do not have us?”

There were only two Range child care centers open Monday, Gruba said, and outside of those, it would be an hourlong drive to the nearest care location.

Shawntel Gruba, owner of Iron Range Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron, speaks at a press conference at her day care for national Day Without Child Care on May 13, 2024.
Megan Buffington
/
KAXE
Shawntel Gruba, owner of Iron Range Tykes Learning Center in Mountain Iron, speaks at a press conference at her day care for national Day Without Child Care on May 13, 2024.

“We know this is an inconvenience to our families, but it needs to be an inconvenience if people want to understand the challenges that we are facing and get things to change,” Gruba said.

Child care is expensive to provide, she said, and the main source of income is tuition from families. Parents are already struggling to afford the price of child care, but she said that doesn’t come close to enough to pay teachers what they deserve.

“There is a huge gap between what families can afford and what it costs to run a high-quality program that treats teachers as the educators that they are with thriving wages, benefits and respect,” Gruba said.

A report published in February says there was an 11% decline in child care programs from 2019 to 2022. Additionally, 94% of Minnesota families pay more than the federally recommended 7% of their income for child care. The average annual cost of infant care a at child care center is more than tuition at the University of Minnesota.

She and other providers want legislators to invest in child care and the people that make it possible. At the Capitol, she and other providers were advocating for more respect and pay for early childhood educators and legislation to help make childcare more affordable for families.

A bill to provide child care subsidies to help families meet the 7% recommendation was introduced in the Legislature this session, but lawmakers did not get the $500 million in funding they were seeking.

While this is the first time Iron Range Tykes has closed, Gruba said this is the third year of national Day Without Child Care. She said this year is just a preview.

“Next year, we are going to get the whole state to shut down.”

A bill to provide childcare subsidies to help families meet the 7% recommendation was introduced in the Legislature this session, but lawmakers did not get the $500 million in funding they were seeking.

While this is the first time Iron Range Tykes has closed, Gruba said this is the third year of National Day Without Childcare. She said this year is just a preview.

“Next year, we are going to get the whole state to shut down.”

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.