In the midst of her first campaign for the Iowa Senate, Deb VanderGaast faced another big life change: the closure of Tipton Adaptive Daycare, her 17-year-old disability-friendly daycare.
VanderGaast, a 54-year-old Tipton resident, spoke about how she would improve the lot of educators and child care providers if elected. As she spoke, she was sorting out toys from the daycare center to resell.
“It shouldn’t happen,” she said of the closure of her daycare, one of the few rural facilities built to serve families of children with disabilities.
Housed in the old Moose Lodge, VanderGaast had to take out large loans to clear the place of mold, bring the pipes and electrical up to code, and build several accessible classrooms for about 70 infants and children. She even designed the adaptive playground at the back, which she says cracked the voice, the area Education Agency told her it was one of the best in the Iowa.
“It was beautiful. Practically perfect,” VanderGaast said. “And he went broke.”
The problems with finding child care in rural Iowa, just like across the country, are manifold:
Perhaps no candidate knows the intricacies of childcare like VanderGaast, who was even featured in Time Magazine as an example of the national crisis in rural child care.
A former nurse and longtime childcare provider, VanderGaast built her disability-focused home daycare after her own children struggled to find quality care. After her children grew up, she wanted to leave that daycare, but she couldn’t say “no” to distraught parents who had nowhere to go for specialized daycare. So she found a way to open her own center to help even more rural parents who had no options for their disabled children. Now it’s all gone.
But she doesn’t give up. Instead, she wants to take her example from the Iowa Senate, representing the new district 41, which includes rural eastern Iowa towns such as Tipton, Walcott, West Liberty, Durant, and parts of Davenport. VanderGaast said childcare and education as a whole were her top priorities.
“Too often our leaders only care about money, not people,” VanderGaast said. “They want to see someone like me, who cares about them, who isn’t afraid to take a political risk. I’d rather lose a campaign than lose my values.
Child care in crisis
It’s not like Republicans in Iowa don’t see the problem.
“Over the past five years, Iowa has lost 33% of its child care businesses and the state is short 350,000 child care spaces for children under 12,” the governor’s website notes. Kim Reynolds in a section called “Confronting Iowa’s Child”. Care crisis. “Twenty-three percent of Iowans live in child care deserts, areas with a shortage of licensed providers.”
It is their solutions that irritate VanderGaast: laws such as letting even younger workers care for more children, funding new centers that remain empty for lack of employeesand paltry subsidies as “solutions” in recent years.
After those attempts in recent sessions, VanderGaast said she was convinced Republicans in the state legislature had no idea how to help providers like her.
“I’m losing $7,000 a month,” she said. “I don’t think any (of the legislators) can run a business with the budgets we have to work with.”
His solution is bolder: a payroll tax on state employers that would help fund salaries to attract more childcare teachers and subsidize parents to better pay childcare costs. Employers, she said, are the biggest beneficiaries of childcare, because it means parents won’t have to choose between working and babysitting.
VanderGaast envisions the tax as a percentage of employers’ payroll, which she says “distributes the burden evenly.” She does not yet know how much she would need to raise to effectively resolve the crisis.
“I know it’s not the magic bullet, but it’s magic for struggling families,” VanderGaast said.
Schools, teachers also in difficulty
VanderGaast said she supports the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear’s Education Platform.
She particularly said she liked the “minimum” 4% increase in additional state aid to public schools, the restoration of collective bargaining and not treating teachers “like criminals with a ‘sinister agenda,’ borrowing the phrase State Sen. Jake Chapman used to disparage professors last year.
“It’s downright hostile,” she said of Chapman’s comments. “You’re accusing them of things when they’re people who really love what they do, who buy supplies out of pocket, who stay after school to help a child without pay… No one wants to work in these terms.”
Underinvestment in schools is a problem, but VanderGaast said Republicans bashing teachers and “politicizing the curriculum” are icing on the cake.
“It’s a cultural issue that’s reinforced and cultivated by our lawmakers because it makes good soundbites and pisses off your base,” she said. “But it also deprives us of teachers.”
take care of people
“I’m a caregiver, nurse, child care provider and spokesperson because I care about people. And I want to bring that attention to our state government,” she said.
But it is not, she says, her “career goal” to be elected for long. She just wants to bring a different voice to a Statehouse that she says left the workers behind.
“I had desperate parents who said, ‘My power is going to be cut – what do I do? ‘” VanderGaast said. “These people are working two jobs and still can’t put food on the table. Stop blaming them and find out why the hell our system is doing this to people.
By Amie Rivers
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