The Manitoba Child Care Association is sounding the alarm about the state of early learning and child care programs.

It says the funding for licensed not-for-profit day cares has been capped by the province since 2016 and the amount parents pay hasn't increased since 2013.

At Kings Park Child Care in Fort Richmond, that's created challenges around finding and retaining staff. And paying the rent takes precedence over extras.

"We have to take funds away from purchasing new equipment, from upgrading our building," said supervisor Scott Forbes.

The Manitoba Child Care Association worries the funding freeze is leading toward a critical shortage of early childhood educators.

"At one point last summer on our job board we had 60 job postings for ECE's," said executive director Jodie Kehl.

That's one reason the Association circulated a petition calling for increased funding. In just one month, it garnered over 26,000 signatures.

"It just demonstrated the need, that Manitobans understand and recognize the importance of early learning in this province," said Kehl.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the funding freeze is forcing some childcare workers to pay for facility expenses.

"When the budgets are stretched so thin, in some cases people who work for daycares are paying out of pocket for the bottle of Mr. Clean, or what have you. So it's time for Manitoba to take child care seriously," Kinew said.

The Pallister Government says it inherited a significant financial challenge from the previous NDP government.

Going forward, it will soon launch a working advisory group that includes the association and parents to advise on potential solutions.

"We want to ask these questions," said Families Minister Heather Stefanson. "What do we need do? I think there are other jurisdictions that do things other ways that maybe we could improve our system. So we need to look at all of those things."

Scott Forbes agrees a conversation about the future of child care is needed, and soon.

"Somebody needs to step up and say we need to properly fund child care," said Forbes.