A group of day care providers announced they will hold regular demonstrations outside the Wilson Building to protest a new requirement for teachers of infants and toddlers in the District to earn Associates degrees.
The workers, who are receiving unexpected support from a Virginia-based libertarian law firm, said increasing credential requirements will put child care centers out of business and low-income people out of work even as Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wants to expand the overtaxed child care system.
Mildred King Chatman, a pastor who used to operate a day care at her church, faced the government building during the first protest on Monday and lifted her arm in the air as she described the work of caring for a baby.
“Changing diapers and showing them love, unconditional love. Giving them a bottle, giving them food. You don’t need an associates degree to do any of that,” she said, with gospel music playing in the background.
Chatman said her day care was shut down by the city for non-compliance with required staffing ratios five years ago but she wants to help other providers keep their jobs as the city tightens licensing requirements. “These rules are so painful they are going to put day care owners that have been in business for 30 or 40 years out of work,” she said.
She obtained a permit to stage regular protests on Freedom Plaza over the next two months. She said the protests will continue until Bowser agrees to meet with the group.
The District increased education requirements for day care providers in December as part of a broader revision to licensing requirements that were written to comply with updated federal requirements and to position the nation’s capital at the forefront of efforts improve the care and education of infants and toddlers.
New regulations also call for child-care center directors to earn a bachelor’s degree and for home care providers and assistant teachers to earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate, sending hundreds of child care workers back to school. The deadline to earn the degrees is December 2020.
The new regulations have been met with anxiety and resistance in many corners of the city. A group of Spanish speaking child care providers said they met with the District’s assistant superintendent of early learning Elizabeth Groginsky last week to discuss concerns that Spanish speakers will have to spend extra years in school to learn English before they can even begin college course work, costing extra money and time - and putting extra pressure on bilingual and immersion day care options that are in high demand.
And some pre-school owners in Northwest say the broader regulations - which include specifications about how children can play at water tables or safely ride a tricycle - are overly prescriptive and seem out of touch to people who have built careers in the field.
After investing heavily in universal pre-school system for the city’s 3- and 4- year olds, officials say they want to address educational disparities between children from poor and wealthy families as early as possible.
“The achievement gap starts early, and we know that 70 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first year of life. A well-educated and prepared early childhood workforce is essential to ensuring that children in the District of Columbia receive the highest quality care in the centers they attend,” said Patience Peabody, director of communications for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in a statement.
Peabody said the District is “committed to supporting our child development educators through this transition,” and cited increased subsidy rates and more than $3 million in scholarships and support for directors, teachers, and providers to meet the new credentials requirements.
Bowser also introduced new funds in next year’s budget to help child care centers increase capacity and ease long waiting lists. The budget the D.C. Council approved last week included $11 million to increase the number of slots, as well as $4.5 million to increase the value of child care vouchers for lower income District residents.
The child care sector is starved for new investment. Subsidies, or vouchers, for children from low-income families currently cover about two-thirds of the median cost for quality infant care, and market rates for higher income families are some of the highest in the country, with average tuitions for infant care surpassing $1,800 a month.
At the same time, many child care workers earn minimum wage. Operators working on thin margins say they can’t afford to pay higher salaries for better educated workers.
Some who are new to the field say they don’t know how they will stay with it.
Tiana Ingram, a child care worker from Southeast, was one of about 15 people who showed up to protest on Monday and hold up fluorescent signs against the gray drizzly day. She said she earned her CDA about six months ago, a process that took her a year to complete. That was the credential she needed to be a lead teacher under the old regulations. But soon after she finished, she learned she would have to go back to school to get an associates degree.
Her employer wanted her to re-enroll in school, she said. But Ingram has five young children at home, and did not want to commit to going back to school at night. So she said she was laid off.
At Monday’s protest, child care workers were also joined by an attorney and two organizers from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm based in Arlington.
Renee D. Flaherty, the attorney, called the new regulations overly burdensome and questioned the research behind requiring day care providers to get higher degrees. ”They serve no purpose other than to funnel money to higher education,” she said
Other providers said their concerns about the regulations go beyond the education requirements.
Barbara Elsas, director of the Little Red Playschool in the Palisades, said the regulations are detailed to the point of being discouraging and “disrespectful” to many providers who have spent their careers working in early childhood education and know how to create enriching environments that are also safe.
She cited new regulations that children must wear helmets when riding tricycles and that there must be a trained lifeguard or “water safety instructor” present at the side of a baby pool.
“There are too many regulations and there’s no way any of us can meet them all,” she said.