HAVE CARE, WILL TRAVEL
By DOUGLAS BURNS
GLIDDEN — Sen. Joni Ernst’s daughter is now at the U.S. Military Academy. But not so long ago, Ernst, 50, found herself looking for child-care options as a working parent in southern Iowa, the Republican senator said in Glidden on Feb. 18.
“Been there, done that,” Ernst, the former Montgomery County auditor, said. “It was tough.”
Ernst talked with board members and other advocates of The Lil’ Wildcat Education Center and conducted an interview with local media during her hour-long event in Glidden.
The approximately 5,000-square-foot, single-level, stick-built structure will be located on Idaho Street (Glidden’s main street, south of U.S. 30) between the Glidden-Ralston School building and the Lincoln Club. The area currently is green space and is used for parking for football games.
“I am so excited about this, I am,” Ernst said.
Ernst, in responding to COVID-19, has made women’s roles in the workplace a high priority. Many American women have had to put their careers on hold and make other changes to manage in-home learning and other disruptions in the last year, she said.
In addition to the impact on kids, the closure of schools and child care centers has disproportionately impacted women, most notably moms, Ernst said.
“As a mom, my heart breaks for all the young boys and girls across the country who are struggling as a direct result of remote learning,” Ernst said. “The toll it’s taken on the progress women have made in the workforce is also devastating. The federal government should be pushing policies that support our next generation of leaders, but instead we’re punishing them.”
Supporters of the Glidden center are well on their way toward fundraising for the $1.2 million center, which is expected to open in fall 2022. The center is currently just under $1.2 million in fundraising. Money raised beyond that will go toward staffing and other operating expenses. The center, through the city of Glidden, received a federal $500,000 Community Development Block Grant in recent weeks.
Lil’ Wildcat’s child-care rooms will include:
• Infants, 6 weeks to 1 year old, capacity for eight children.
• Toddlers, 1 to 2 years old, capacity for eight children.
• 2-year-olds’ room, capacity for 12 children.
• 3-year-olds’ (preschool) room, capacity for 16 children.
• 4- and 5-year-olds’ room, capacity for 16 children.
• Before- and after-school room, capacity for 15 children.
The need for a child care center was identified in community visioning meetings held in 2016, followed up with a community survey last year.
Angela Lensch, president of the Lil’ Wildcat Education Center board, said fundraising for the center, which started in September, is proceeding nicely because the community knows the need.
“As you know, we are in a child-care desert,” Lensch told Ernst.
Glidden-Ralston school officials are strongly advocating for the center because they want to keep Glidden kids in the local school district. Kids who leave for child-care before school years are more likely to open enroll out of the district, said Glidden-Ralston Superintendent Kreg Lensch.
For her part, Ernst, who strongly opposes increasing the $7.25 minimum wage to $15 during the pandemic, says such a move would be devastating for already-struggling child-care centers as they would have to boost their wages beyond what parents can afford.
“That is something we are very aware of,” Ernst said.
Ernst said she supports bipartisan legislation, called the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, which will expand competitive grants to states like Iowa to address child care and help fund projects like the one in Glidden.
“Iowa faced a child care crisis even before the pandemic, particularly in our rural areas, and COVID has only made this situation worse for families,” Ernst said. “The parents and leaders of the Glidden community have an incredible success story to tell about how they stepped up to address the child care crisis in this area.
“I want to make sure communities across our state, especially in our rural areas and child care deserts, have that same opportunity, which is why I’m working across the aisle to help expand access to child care and boost support for projects like the one here in Glidden.”