Help Wanted: Impact of early education access on businesses subject of South Dakota department survey

The six-question survey asks, in one part, whether “employee productivity at your business” has been impacted by a lack of access to pre-kindergarten education in South Dakota.

Dem leaders, Nesiba.jpg
Democratic leaders in the South Dakota Legislature speak during a press conference in Pierre on Jan. 26, 2023. Sen. Reynold Nesiba of Sioux Falls (middle), has been an advocate for improving access to child care with state funding.
Photo courtesy Jeremy Waltner on behalf of the South Dakota Newspaper Association

PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Department of Education and Department of Social Services are looking into the availability of pre-kindergarten education in the state, releasing a six-question survey that could bring insight into the scope of the oft-referenced shortage of quality child care in the state.

The survey is specifically tailored to the impact that a lack of pre-kindergarten education availability has on business owners in the state.

In one example, it asks whether “employee productivity at your business” has been impacted by a lack of access to early education.

However, the survey does appear open to wider “community and business partner perspectives” in the state.

“The departments are collaborating to gain a better understanding of the pre-kindergarten landscape in South Dakota,” Mary Stadick Smith, the deputy secretary of education, told Forum News Service. “The process has included surveys, listening sessions, and focused interviews that have taken place over the past several months.”


South Dakota is one of six states in the nation that has no state-funded pre-kindergarten program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, said that’s a major part of the problem.

“This type of survey is long past due. We need to find ways to assess and meet pre-kindergarten and childcare needs. In the end, high-quality, affordable childcare, that pays a living wage requires a state government subsidy,” he said, an argument he made often during the recently wrapped legislative session. “South Dakota families, businesses, and kids deserve this kind of state support that most states already provide. Perhaps this survey will provide data necessary to help us move in that direction.”

Most Republican lawmakers in the South Dakota Legislature do not necessarily agree with state funding as the end-all-be-all, more often referencing a creative model that could include businesses partnering together to share care costs, though specifics have yet to come.

Despite not being included as a specific summer study, work on child care among lawmakers should move forward on an ad hoc basis.

“We have a child care crisis in South Dakota,” Sen. Tim Reed, of Brookings, said during a Feb. 8 committee hearing. “I could go through a lot of the stats on this, but I think everybody knows where the issues are. In every single community, people are talking about this.”

Other workforce-related issues referenced in the survey include questions about whether lack of access makes it more difficult to “recruit or attract a skilled workforce” or increases worker turnover.

The use of the “workforce” lens mirrors the attempt over the past few years to ultimately put $200 million in state dollars toward helping develop housing — investments lawmakers touted as “workforce housing.”

Nesiba agrees with the framing.


“South Dakota moms and dads need to know that their child, or children, are safe while they are at work,” Nesiba said.

While Stadick Smith did not indicate a deadline for the completion of the survey, she did promise that a report will be “issued this fall detailing the findings of these efforts.”

“We have to think about what our priorities are, especially considering the threats we face around the world,” South Dakota U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds said.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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