Foundation support helps launch local child care wage enhancement program

In support of child care in Allamakee County ... The Northeast Iowa Funders Network was instrumental in helping fund efforts by Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission that ultimately resulted in the establishment of a child care wage enhancement program in Allamakee County. Pictured above at the Postville Child Care Center, a benefactor of that new program, are, left to right, Affiliate Development Director for the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa Terry Gaumer, Keith Newhouse of the Winneshiek County Community Foundation, Emily Sadewasser of the Clayton County Community Foundation, Kristy Turner of the Postville Childcare Center, Andy Reimer and Haleisa Johnson of the Clayton County Community Foundation, Betty Steege of the Allamakee County Community Foundation, and Michelle Barness of Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission. Submitted photo.

Like other day care facilities in the area, Postville Childcare was recently ready to close its doors, which would have left 49 families without care and 17 staff members without jobs. Thanks to strong community partnerships, help came just in time.

As the center was gearing up to close, The Northeast Iowa Funders Network, made up of community foundations in Allamakee, Chickasaw, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek Counties, awarded a grant to Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission to support the work of regional planner Michelle Barness, who is coordinating strategies for addressing child care challenges.

Barness provided support to Allamakee County providers, economic development leaders and other partners as they worked to raise $163,000 for a countywide child care wage enhancement program. The state of Iowa provided 2-to-1 matching funds, making nearly $500,000 available to help providers pay staff competitive wages.

Instead of closing its doors, Postville Childcare now has a plan to increases hourly wages for current teachers, advertise and hire for open positions, and ultimately increase enrollment from 60 to 80 children.

“Keeping rates affordable for families is a priority. A two-income household in Allamakee County is paying around 14-16% of income toward childcare, and we know that 7% is what’s considered affordable,” says Kristy Turner, Postville Childcare director. “The wage enhancement fund allows us to keep rates where they are for parents and still increase wages for teachers.”

Turner and her board of directors met with local businesses and potential funders, and helped market the new program. Many gifts from individuals, families and businesses in the county contributed to the success of the fundraising campaign, and community members can still make gifts. Turner says future fundraisers and an ongoing awareness campaign will help keep the momentum going.

Turner adds that Barness’ involvement was key to finding a solution. “Michelle identified the need, gathered data on the current situation in the county, and helped center leaders create presentations to secure funding,” says Turner. Barness worked within her organization as well as with local and statewide partners to design the parameters for the wage program, and take steps necessary to ensure its quick implementation by the start of this 2024.

Beyond the Allamakee wage enhancement fund, Barness’ plan includes strategic collaboration with statewide child care partners, building awareness about child care challenges across the region, and providing grant writing services for childcare funding.

“This project has helped with morale, giving us hope and a reason to hang on - because it’s been really hard,” says Turner. “We are so grateful for all of the support.”

The Northeast Iowa Funders Network seeks to fund innovative projects that touch its six-county service area and leverage resources from private, state, and federal partners. The Funders Network has a history of supporting child care in the region: In 2020, the Network supported Nurturing Nature Explorers, a program that trained 85 childcare professionals and county naturalists in enhancing children’s engagement with nature. The network is convened by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa.