Heather and Emily: Keep The Child Development Center Open - and Thriving

Last year, Heather Lynch and Emily Erpelding got some disturbing news. The morning began like most other days for these young moms and classroom assistants at the University of Minnesota’s Child Development Center: Emily spent the day caring for kids in the infant room, while Heather spent her day off with her son, who was home for a snow day.

Then, Emily’s supervisor entered the room and told her, “Go check your email”. At home, Heather also noticed she had a new message. They were both shocked to learn that the CDC was closing – and their jobs would soon disappear.

The educators at UMCDC felt helpless. “Staff started trying to figure out how they would pay the bills and find work,” said Heather. “Parents were at a loss – it had already been so hard to find quality child care in the Metro area, and now they were being told they’d have to get on waitlists at other facilities that were, in some cases, years long.”

But with the help of their union, and other allies in labor and the community, they fought back.

Parents, teachers and staff quickly mobilized. They formed a committee, called lawmakers, signed petitions, and made T-shirts. They hosted listening sessions for the community to share the importance of UMCDC. Parents formed a committee, a Facebook page and reached out to the media. They called lawmakers and signed petitions.

The first sign that this coalition was winning came in March. The university president announced he was postponing the closure and forming an advisory committee to investigate the need for childcare in the U of M community. Then, on Sept. 18, the U announced its decision to keep the UMCDC open. “Not only had we saved UMCDC – we opened the door for a much larger conversation about the field we both love,” said Heather.

But the fight to save UMCDC was just the beginning for Heather and Emily. Wages that are lower than average means high turnover and low morale at UMCDC. Since the UMCDC functions as part of the University of Minnesota system, it relies on funding from the Legislature. Without a robust higher education funding bill, the UMCDC – and hundreds of other services the U of M system supports – will be in danger.

Right now, the Minnesota Legislature is debating whether to fund higher education institutions like the University of Minnesota, or pass a budget so limited it could force colleges to cut jobs and services.

This isn’t just an issue for the educators at UMCDC. The parents who fought for the Center did so because they needed the reliable, high-quality child care that UMCDC provides. 

"From two to three is when children’s language and social skills explode," said Heather. "Knowing what I do with them impacts their entire life is a huge reward and burden as well."

UMCDC activists protected this critical services for hundreds of families. But without broader action on funding education – from our littlest learners to our higher education institutions – we will continue to struggle. It’s time for Minnesota to fund E-12 and Higher Education at levels that will guarantee stability and success for years to come.