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Licensing requirements, staffing ratios part of South Dakota child care shortage

Daily Republic - 10/25/2022

Oct. 25—SUMMIT, S.D. — When Jennica Pottebaum moved back to her hometown of Summit after having her first child, she quickly noticed that child care options were limited to local, in-home providers.

While this setup is the norm in most rural communities around the state, Pottebaum soon realized the practice had some built-in downsides.

"If the day care lady says 'I woke up today and I have a sick child,' that just shuts down about fifteen families that are vital to our community," Pottebaum told Forum News Service in a phone interview on Oct. 18. "It's teachers and bankers, and it would really shut down our small town. So we realized quickly that a dedicated center would be more beneficial."

In 2015, Pottebaum decided to do something about it; several grant proposals later, in March 2017, Sprouts Community Daycare opened its doors.

On top of offering peace of mind to local families, operating a licensed day care allowed the Summit facility to qualify for part of $76 million in one-time grants that helped fund staff raises in addition to covering six months of expenses.

While registration requirements are relatively simple for in-home providers with 12 or fewer children, providers looking to work at a larger scale must meet certain licensing requirements, which can be especially challenging in rural areas.

The specifics of these requirements are part of the story of a

child care affordability and access crisis in the state.

For the under-three age group, South Dakota requires one staff member for every five children, a condition that is almost economically impossible for rural providers to maintain without either help from local taxpayers or private fundraising efforts.

"The wage has to be a desirable enough wage that they want to work in Summit and not commute and not go somewhere else," Pottebaum said. "So we couldn't maintain it unless we had supplemental funding from either the taxpayers or through our fundraising efforts. I mean, statewide, rural day care is a problem."

Jessica Castleberry, a state senator who runs a preschool and child care service in the Rapid City area, told Forum News Service that following state-mandated ratios is a problem that extends into larger population centers as well.

"With the hiring crisis that we're all facing right now, you can have a cushion of staff, but if two people don't show up, because a lot of that is happening these days, it puts them in crisis," Castleberry said. "And then they're out of ratio, and suddenly they're not complying with their license."

A longtime expert on child care, Castleberry also pointed to some administrative rules from the Department of Social Services, such as the requirement for the installation of fire sprinklers in certain licensed, in-home facilities, as a cost-prohibitive hurdle to increasing the supply of providers.

Castleberry said these sprinkler systems can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 despite often being unnecessary when providers are not offering overnight care.

"There is currently no flexibility," Castleberry said about state licensing requirements. "However, those conversations have been taking place for the first time in my career."

Most of these questions of regulation are related to administrative rules, which means the Department of Social Services, whose secretary is appointed by the governor, would have the authority to change these requirements with the blessing of the legislature's rules review committee.

On her campaign website, incumbent Gov. Kristi Noem

promises to continue

"streamlining the licensing system to make it easier for a facility to become licensed" and "cutting red tape and restrictions while ensuring that kids are still being taken care of."

Her opponent, Democrat Jamie Smith, also


"creating opportunities for affordable child care" as part of his campaign pitch.

Though most of the licensing changes would happen in the executive branch, Castleberry said the legislature may look at setting up group health insurance for child care workers across the state during the next session, which would aid in keeping costs down for providers.

"It's all in the very beginning drafting stages, but there will be more coming on some of the options that we have as a state to offer some health insurance benefits," Castleberry said. "And that's something that would be paid into, it's not state-funded, so it checks all of those boxes to make it very palatable to the legislature."

Jason Harward is a

Report for America

corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at




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