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Daycare operators told: Get college degree or new job

The District of Columbia has begun putting much-needed day cares out of business because their operators are not college graduates.

The new requirement, just approved and retroactively affecting day-care providers who have successfully provided working parents help for decades, comes from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

The dispute is being taken to court now by the Institute for Justice.

“Taking care of a child takes a lot of things – patience, creativity, and kindness rank high among many other attributes – but the one thing it doesn’t take is a college degree. But don’t tell that to Washington, D.C., regulators in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which recently enacted a regulation requiring the city’s day care providers to either obtain a college degree, or look for another job,” the legal team said.

Their case is on behalf of Ilumi Sanchez, a day-care provider who has taken care of dozens of children since 1995.

The new rule is devastating for her, because “between the time she spends watching nine kids during the day and taking care of her family in the evening, earning an unnecessary college diploma is a non-starter.”

“That is only compounded by her limited English skills and the five-figure cost of tuition. Once the regulation takes effect, Ilumi’s only choice will be to either shut down or move elsewhere and leave behind the families that have grown to see her as a part of their family,” the institute said.

The lawsuit argues that the rule goes beyond the constitutional authority of the government.

“You don’t need to know how to integrate a function or write in iambic pentameter in order to take care of a newborn or toddler,” explained Renée Flaherty, an IJ lawyer.

“Day-care providers already go through a battery of training covering real-world needs like first aid and early development enrichment. Requiring them to spend two to four years studying subjects like English literature, math, or public speaking will only serve to drive them out of business, drive up day care costs, and make finding a daycare in the district even more impossible than it already is.”

The evidence isn’t on the side of regulators, IJ said.

“In 2015, the National Academies of Science released a comprehensive report on early childhood education, which found that there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating that a college degree would have beneficial effects on early childhood development,” the group said.

“The OSSE’s arbitrary rule, which was passed without input or oversight by the city council, comes at a time when D.C.’s childcare marketplace is already strained beyond the breaking point. district parents pay more for childcare than in any other state – an average of $23,089 per year for an infant. Waitlists for a spot at a day care center can run over a year. It is not uncommon for parents who get on a waitlist as soon as they are pregnant to find themselves without a spot once their child is born nine months later. In 2015, licensed day care providers had roughly 7,610 slots for the 22,000 children under age three in D.C.

“Taking care of kids takes more specialized and personal traits – experience like caring and patience, not reading and writing,” said Sanchez, in a statement released by IJ. “They don’t teach those skills in college. You learn those by doing them – and I’ve been doing them for nearly 25 years.”

“As people across the political spectrum recognize the enormous burdens created by unnecessary occupational licenses, D.C. officials have chosen to make the problem worse by demanding an empty credential in order to care for a two-year-old,” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “D.C.’s regulation is only the latest example of how arbitrary and unjustified occupational regulations serve to lock people out of making a living doing jobs they know and love. Ilumi and hundreds of other day care providers have a constitutional right to earn an honest living.”

The case, in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeks a ruling that the new requirement is unconstitutional, violating the D.C. Home Rule Act.