Simplified: Childcare tuition is unaffordable for about 9 in every 10 Sioux Falls families who don't qualify for state childcare assistance. The Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative next week is releasing a series of possible solutions for the ongoing childcare crisis.

Why it matters

  • There are about 650 more kids than available childcare spots in Sioux Falls. And that's a conservative estimate. The reality is, not all of the estimated 12,260 licensed childcare slots in town are in use because of workforce challenges, according to data from the collaborative
  • Back in October, a number of community groups – including the City of Sioux Falls, United Way, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and others – worked together to fund a six-month, full-time focus on not just defining the challenges facing parents and providers but also finding solutions. This Community Childcare Initiative was led by Nicole Fluth and Rana DeBoer.
  • The biggest takeaway? It’s not up to parents to fix the problem. It’s up to the broader community — including businesses, state lawmakers and educators.
  • And, as collective member and Sioux Falls School District Community Partnerships Coordinator Rebecca Wimmer put it, childcare is critical infrastructure for our community.
"If we had a hole in a pipe underground ... the city would go start digging it up, figure out how to replace the pipe, figure out the funding," Wimmer said. "Childcare is just as critical as those pieces of infrastructure, and if we don't pay attention to the hole that we have now, it's eventually going to explode."  

Tell me more about the problem

There are a few different facets of the problem that can be summarized in the following categories: affordability, availability and workforce.

Childcare is too expensive. Affordability is defined at the federal level as no more than 7% of household income.

  • Childcare tuition in Sioux Falls is close to $11,400 per year, which means it's only "affordable" for a family with a household income of more than $163,000. (And that's if that family has only one child.)

There aren't enough slots available. Sioux Falls has an estimated 12,260 licensed childcare slots but about 12,900 kids with all parents in the workforce.

Childcare workers are underpaid, leading to high turnover. The collaborative found that 64% of childcare centers in the city are unable to enroll as many kids as they would legally have capacity for because they can't find enough workers.

  • The turnover rate for childcare workers in the state was 88% in 2021.
  • And, to top it off, childcare workers are among the lowest paid workers in the state, with an average hourly wage of $12.34 per hour.
"What we’ve really found is that it's still a crisis," Fluth said. "Maybe for some people, it doesn't hurt as much, but for others it still is."

So what are the solutions?

The collective will be releasing its full 150-page document of findings on Monday, but in the meantime it shared a couple of key takeaways with Cmtv News.

One overarching theme is that any solutions will require action from all sides of the community. It has to be a "three-legged stool" with support from parents, businesses and the broader community, said Michelle Erpenbach, president of Sioux Falls Thrive, the organization behind the collaborative.

"Right now, it's a pogo stick, and it's all on the parents," she added.

But there are also practical, immediate tips.

  • The collective has put together a step-by-step guide for businesses looking to better support employees’ childcare needs.
  • There are also specific plans outlined for community partnerships and funding programs to help offset childcare costs for parents.

And there's a long-term look at how to improve the childcare systems statewide from changes in state law to programs to encourage people to pursue a career in childcare.

What will really move the needle, though, is collaboration, DeBoer said.

"That's the money," DeBoer said. "That's where we're going to make the magic happen."

What happens next?

The collaborative will report its full findings at an event starting 5 p.m. Monday at the administration building of the University of South Dakota - Sioux Falls. You can RSVP here to attend the free event.

After that, there’s a long road ahead. But the time for conducting more studies has passed, Erpenbach said.

  • Now, it’s time to go to work.
"People have to take action ... It's going to take all of us to get this done," Erpenbach said.

More on this topic

What to know about S.D.’s $636 million childcare crisis
The childcare industry in South Dakota is facing an increasing gap between what parents can afford to pay and the actual costs to care for children.
Even if businesses start paying part of childcare costs, it won’t be enough
Even if Sioux Falls businesses start helping cover the costs of childcare for employees, it likely won’t be enough to bridge the gap between what parents can afford and what it takes to pay childcare providers a competitive wage.
Child care providers are struggling. Can lawmakers help?
Many providers are struggling financially, facing workforce shortages, rising costs and background check delays.