Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Day care in Minnesota is among the most expensive in the nation, a study found.

Single working parents, for instance, spend as much as 40 percent of their income on child care, according to the study. Two-parent families, meanwhile, pay $1.52 for every $10 they earn -- just ahead of Massachusetts at $1.48 per $10 earned.

Those were some of the findings in the study, dubbed "Breaking the Piggy Bank: Parents and the High Price of Child Care," released by the National Association of Child Care Resource &; Referral Agencies in Washington.

The agency relied on polls conducted by more than 850 state and local referral agencies across the United States. The Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network surveyed 14,000 child-care providers statewide as part of the survey.

Child advocacy groups said the data support their calls for increased funding for state child care assistance.

State spending on Minnesota's Child Care Assistance Program has been cut 21 percent, to $169 million this fiscal year, from $215 million in 2003, in part because the state has frozen reimbursement rates to providers who care for children from low-income families. About one-quarter of the families that were enrolled in CCAP have dropped out of the program since the rates were frozen in 2003.

But while an increase in state funding might help working families, experts say it will do nothing to address the main cause of Minnesota's high day-care costs: Government regulation.

The state has strict rules governing the quality of care among providers.

For instance, state law requires day-care centers to employ at least one licensed care provider for every seven toddlers and at least one for every four infants. In Georgia and South Carolina, by contrast, one provider can supervise as many as 16 children.

Labor costs typically account for about 60 percent of a child care center's budget, said Chad Dunkley, president of the Minnesota Child Care Association and chief operating officer of the New Horizon Academy, a Plymouth-based company that has 58 centers statewide.

Dunkley said it's no coincidence that the states with the least-affordable child care -- including California, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin -- are also states with the lowest teacher-to-children ratios.

"The message here is, if you want your children to have a good, quality education, then you're going to have to pay for it," Dunkley said.

Child care expenses are the largest piece of many family budgets in Minnesota. On average, residents pay $736 a month for day care for a 4-year-old toddler, compared with $673 for rent, according to the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

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