The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Johnson County child care wage enhancement program yields positive results

UI evaluation will assess the future of the program after ARPA funds cease.
Sara Stumpff
Youth & Family Service Manager Laurie Nash works in her office at the Johnson County Health & Human Services building in Iowa City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.

The Johnson County child care wage enhancement program, which provided a $2 per hour increase for professionals in the industry, reportedly helped nearly 100 employees in the county.

Federally funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the program is conducting a performance evaluation to assess its future once federal funds expire in 2026. The program is reported to have assisted nine child care centers and 92 employees across the county.

Approved on June 6 by the Iowa City City Council, the program is a collaboration between the city council, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, and local child care centers.

The supervisors unanimously approved the program’s contract with the University of Iowa to conduct the evaluation for an amount not to exceed roughly $98,000 at the Nov. 9 formal session.

In partnership with the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice through the UI, the wage enhancement program will evaluate its successes and needed improvements by communicating with participating child care centers.

The county is evaluating the program to analyze a potential solution to extend the program beyond its ARPA expiration date.

Lynette Jacoby, Johnson County social services director, said the program has recorded positive data in regard to employee retention and classroom size, but the county is lacking perspective from the child care providers.

The evaluation will allow providers to discuss what aspects of the program are working and make suggestions for improvement. The program is funded with ARPA money, which is federally required to be spent before Dec. 31, 2026, or the money will be returned to the federal government.

Megan Ronnenberg, a graduate fellow at the University of Iowa School of Social Work, is leading the evaluation. She plans to survey participants at six-month intervals, assessing the impact of the program on a professional and personal level.

Ronnenberg said the evaluation will help determine if the wage enhancement program is a sustainable solution to the child care shortage in Johnson County. She is hopeful to start the evaluation in January 2024.

Laurie Nash, Johnson County youth and family services manager, said once the 2026 date hits, the program will rely completely on private business investment and donations.

Nash said the program has achieved many of its goals including staff recruitment and retention by offering more funds for workers, making it easier to hire, and making it more competitive with other businesses.

“We see this as a pilot program and so that information will help us moving forward and also help us inform as other communities across the state implement something like this,” Nash said.

Child care workers in Iowa are paid an average of $11.61 per hour, according to data from 2022 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The annual average wage of a child care worker in Iowa totals less than $25,000.

In its original proposal, the program reported child care workers receive the lowest wages of all tracked professions in Johnson County.

To qualify for the program, staff must regularly work with newborns to children aged 5 years old, work at least 32 hours a week, and make less than $25 an hour.

Nash said the program has added 15 staff members to the childcare centers and continues to enroll more.

Little Clippers Child Development Center in Tiffin, Iowa, began the program with 12 employees and increased to 17 employees with assistance from the program.

Amanda Rairden, director of the center, said the wage enhancement attracted more staff and allowed the center to be selective in its hiring process, rather than accepting applicants that required training.

The increase in staff allowed the center to take on more kids, scratching some names off its 40-family-long waiting list.

Rairden said she did not have the exact number of newcomers, but all of the classrooms and age groups, specifically infants to three-year-olds, have increased.

“It has allowed us to take on additional kids that we couldn’t have before because our enrollment is based on the amount of staff we have,” Rairden said. “If you don’t have staff, you can’t accept children.”

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About the Contributors
Roxy Ekberg, News Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.
Sara Stumpff, Photojournalist
Sara is a third year UI student who transfered from Kirkwood. She is a "non traditional" student who will hopefully obtain her BFA in Photography and BA in Spanish.