Plus, a look at the Child Care Task Force recommendations
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Good morning, happy Monday and Happy New Year!

This week we’re running the second part of a series on the child care crisis. Last week we ran part one, which illustrated how a shortage of child care workers and a lack of available slots in the state are affecting other areas of the economy. Part two takes a look at the Governor’s Child Care Task Force recommendations.

I purposely wrote these articles in a way that even if you know nothing about child care at all, you’d be able to understand it. They’re long pieces, but because of the child care industry’s effect on the rest of the rest of the economy, it’s worth reading even if you don't have kids.

We’re continuing to experiment with a summary story format in case you’re strapped for time. Let us know what you think about it.

Lastly, before we dive headfirst into 2022, we’d be remiss not to look back at the historic gains, milestones and achievements of women in 2021. You’ll find a non-exhaustive but still impressive list of women’s wins near the bottom of the newsletter.

Here’s hoping for a year filled with progress, awareness, kindness – and of course, fearlessness.

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

‘This is hope like we’ve never seen before’
An in-depth look at the Child Care Task Force recommendations: What they address and what was left out
Kayla Sechler reads a book to toddlers at the Ann Wickman Child Development Center in Atlantic. Photo by Emily Kestel.
Let’s say you have a baby. You’re lucky to be employed by a company that offers a few weeks of paid parental leave, but when your infant is 6 weeks old, you have to return to work. Your partner also has to go back to work, so you must find child care.

The trouble is, there aren’t any providers within a 10-mile radius that can take your baby, so you have to look in a neighboring city. You eventually find one, but it’s going to cost you about $200 per week – or more than $10,000 per year. There’s no choice but to pay it – you have to work.  

Eight months later, the provider calls you with some bad news: She’s very sorry, but she’s quitting and closing her business. She loves your child and loves what she does, but can no longer survive making just $25,000 a year.

For years, this has been reality for thousands of parents and providers. Child care advocates have long pleaded for solutions, but until recently they weren’t getting anywhere.

Child care is a family issue – it’s not our responsibility, policymakers would imply.

Until the pandemic. What was a simmering crisis suddenly began boiling over. Iowa lost nearly a third of its child care slots, which created a loss of revenue for providers and reduced availability for the children of essential workers, who didn’t have the privilege of staying at home.

The Economic Recovery Advisory Board, assembled by Gov. Kim Reynolds in June 2020 to identify solutions for the state’s recovery from the pandemic, concluded that priority No. 1 should be addressing the child care crisis.

Out of that recommendation, the Child Care Task Force was created less than a year later, tasked with developing "a comprehensive strategy to address Iowa’s child care crisis," which would be used as "a foundation for potential action by the Governor, legislature, communities and employers to reduce both short and long-term barriers."

What recommendations made it into the final report

The final report includes 15 recommendations that target solutions for businesses, child care providers, parents and the child care workforce.

Business coordination. Through a partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, create a full-time position for someone who would serve as a navigator to help businesses, employers, advocates and communities understand solutions to child care found in the Iowa Women’s Foundation business solutions toolkit.

Business slots. Establish a tax credit program that would incentivize employers to purchase available openings at a nearby child care center as a benefit to its employees. The employee would cover some, if not all, of the cost of the slots that they use, while the employer would cover the cost of unused slots, so the provider would still maintain a stable funding stream.

Business investment credits. Create an Iowa Child Care Investment Tax Credit program that would make businesses eligible for a 20% refundable tax credit for investing in the construction or acquisition of a nonprofit child care center that would be used by its employees. It would also give businesses a 5% refundable tax credit for the annual cost of providing child care to the employees’ children.

Property tax parity. Create a subcategory of commercial property for child care centers that would treat them the same as residential, in-home care operations.

Vacant school rehabilitation. Create a pilot project led by the Iowa Economic Development Authority that would transform vacant school buildings into child care centers.

Child care challenge fund. Support and continuously review the Child Care Challenge Fund to increase the availability of child care slots.

Sales and use tax exemption. Create a sales and use tax exemption on the building materials used for the construction or expansion of licensed child care centers, which would lower construction costs.

Best places for working parents. Implement an initiative that would designate the Best Place for Working Parents in the state. The policies reviewed for the designation would include paid health care, paid time off, paid parental leave, on-site child care, child care assistance, backup child care, flexible hours, remote work opportunities and lactation benefits.

Shared services. Develop a model that would allow child care providers to access a statewide, online partnership platform for support on various business operations like  payroll, retirement benefits and group purchasing for insurance.

Fire and safety code requirements. Create a transparent and consistent policy for fire and safety code requirements in child care settings.

Child care assistance. Provide more flexibility in child care assistance program requirements to help more working families and providers.

Blended child care and education. Blend child care and preschool options, which would expand early learning opportunities.

Child care enrollment hub. Develop a centralized online hub where parents can quickly and easily find information about child care facilities, openings, enrollment and tours.

Workforce education compensation. Continue to support workforce education opportunities while leveraging new ones to help fill the gap for those interested in pursuing the child care profession.

Ratio requirements. Reexamine staffing restrictions and the child-staff ratios to determine whether regulatory changes should be made.

The task force also listed 12 "just do it" recommendations, which were defined as "common-sense process initiatives that the state can put in place with relative ease."

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What was left out

Several task force members, as well as providers who did not serve on the task force, expressed concerns about the lack of recommendations that address the workforce crisis, particularly regarding wages and benefits.

"We didn’t go as deep and as wide as we could have in the discussions about workforce, workforce development, professionalism of the industry, and professional development and retention and recruitment," task force member Teree Caldwell-Johnson said.

What’s next

Many of the recommendations require legislation or state appropriations. Gov. Kim Reynolds last November indicated that she is implementing several of them.

Iowa Workforce Development Executive Director Beth Townsend believes the task force recommendations will influence Reynolds’ legislative agenda, and added that she’s hopeful the Legislature will look at the report and use it to support what they end up trying to push through.

Task force chair Emily Schmitt said her priority is getting the report into the hands of the public so community members can talk about it with their elected officials and continue conversations into the future.

"I hope this report gets coffee stains, bent up, written on and printed out more than once."

Quotes from task force members

Janee Harvey: "Child care is not just important for the kids. It is a fundamental piece of our entire economic infrastructure. When you do not have child care, your entire economy collapses."

Emily Schmitt: "I think child care has that effect of being the root cause for the positive. … It should be elevated for state funding when we look at legislative priorities."

Jennifer Banta: "We really should have figured this out decades ago. But I think now there’s some momentum and I think now is the time."  

Mary Janssen: "We have a lot of work to do yet, the task force wasn’t necessarily going to check the box and solve all the problems, but we’ve definitely started to pave the way and have a lot of great things that will move forward."

Raven Walker: "Overall, the [task force recommendations are] a step in the right direction. But at the end of it, I was kind of left feeling like this isn’t really going to immediately improve much of anything, as bad as that sounds. … We need specific solutions so that we have steps to follow."

Left: Vice President Kamala Harris. Center: Aviator Wally Funk. Right: Actress Mj Rodriguez.
In the headlines – year in review edition
  • IN BUSINESS AND EDUCATION: GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra made history as the first woman to lead the Business Roundtable, which is an association of CEOs of top American companies. The number of women running Fortune 500 businesses hit an all-time record this year: 41. Drake University elected its first Black woman as student body president – Morgan Coleman. Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala began leading the World Trade Organization this year, making her the first woman and the first African to do so.
  • IN POLITICS: Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, first Asian American and first Black vice president of the United States. In part because of Republican women’s significant gains in the most recent election cycle, a record number of women were sworn into the 117th Congress this year – 120 in the U.S. House and 24 in the U.S. Senate. With the election of Rep. Jennifer Konfrst to the position of House minority leader this year, every caucus in the Iowa Legislature has now had a woman serve as leader. Deb Haaland became the first Native American interior secretary. Katherine Tai became the first woman of color to hold the trade representative post. Rachel Levine became the first trans person confirmed to a Cabinet-level position. Janet Yellen became the first woman to serve as treasury secretary. Avril Haines became the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence. Upon taking office this year, Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride became the highest-ranking transgender elected official in the U.S.
  • IN SPORTS: Becky Hammon became the first woman to act as head coach during a regular season NBA game. The Boston Red Sox hired Bianca Smith as a minor league coach, which made her the first Black woman to coach in the history of professional baseball. Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. Maia Chaka became the first Black woman to officiate an NFL game this year. The University of Iowa became the first Division I Power 5 school to offer women’s wrestling. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympic Games.
  • IN MEDIA: For the first time, most large American newsrooms are now being led by someone other than a white man. To name a few: Kimberly Godwin is at ABC News, Rashida Jones is at MSNBC, Alyson Shontell is at Fortune and Sally Buzbee is at the Washington Post. Following the retirement of David Yepsen, longtime journalist Kay Henderson became the first woman to hold the role of host and moderator in the history of Iowa PBS’ "Iowa Press" program.
  • IN CULTURAL AFFAIRS: Chloe Zhao made history as the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe and Oscar for best director. Leyna Bloom became the first trans cover model in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. The Louvre museum is led by a woman – Laurence des Cars – for the first time since its creation in 1793. Angelina Hemphill and Hannah Massey became the first female Eagle Scouts in Central Iowa, joining 1,000 young women from across the country in Boy Scouts of America’s inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts. Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Mj Rodriguez became the first out trans woman to be nominated in the outstanding lead actress category for the Emmys. Kataluna Enriquez became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss USA pageant.
  • IN SCIENCE: At age 82, aviator Wally Funk became the oldest woman and oldest person to reach the edge of space.
  • IN THE MILITARY: For the first time, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was guarded by an all-woman team of sentinels this year. Ankeny resident and Iowa State student Pfc. Taylor Patterson became the first woman to enlist as an infantry soldier in the Iowa National Guard.
In the headlines
Worth checking out
Hindsight is … 2020? Or 2021? (NBC News). How to reconfigure remote work to protect your personal time (Time). New Day’s Lyric (Amanda Gorman Instagram). Six ways to set yourself up for success amid uncertainty in 2022 (Fortune).


Here is a list of resources you can use to tackle the issue of child care, whether you’re a parent, a community member or a business executive.

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