The District’s child care workers may be granted additional time to obtain required higher education degrees or professional certificates, the News4 I-Team learned.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the District is considering pushing back the deadlines for child care workers to obtain those educational requirements from 2023 to potentially 2025, though such a move would require public comment and approval.
“I have a hunch that we're going to look at changing the date again,” Mendelson told News4, adding, “There’s a paradox. We want this to happen right away. And at the same time, we recognize that there has to be some patience.”
The requirements were initially passed in 2016 as part of a sweeping bid to improve the quality of early childhood education in the nation’s capital. Under the requirements, child care center directors must have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a degree with at least 15 semester credit hours in that field, child care teachers must obtain an associate’s degree in early childhood education, and other industry workers must obtain a child development associate credential.
“So much of brain development, so much of growth, occurs between birth and 3, and if we want to really capture that, then we want folks who have been trained in education, early childhood education, not just babysitters,” said Mendelson, a supporter of those measures.
But the deadlines to obtain those requirements have already faced numerous delays, in part due to legal challenges and pushback from industry workers who said the requirements were overly burdensome and could force professionals to leave the field.
Now, as the industry recovers from the pandemic, Mendelson said there’s talk of giving workers even more time.
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“A lot of adults can't take the time off to get the degree or the certificate,” he said, adding the District is also looking at boosting the number of courses available to help workers meet the requirements.
That’s welcome news to some child care workers who told the I-Team they face unprecedented challenges in recruiting and retaining workers after so many left the field during the pandemic.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals the child care workforce dropped by more than 35 percent last year, and as of May, was still nearly 15 percent below pre-pandemic levels.
Cynthia Davis, head of the D.C. Family Child Care Association, said most child care workers are women who are juggling full-time work and family obligations, leaving little time to take classes at night.
“There is no way that a teacher can get a degree in two years if she's not going full-time,” she said, adding: “That means it takes six years to get a degree, taking only two classes when you need 60 credits.”
Data provided by the District’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which oversees the industry, reveals how far the District’s child care workers have to go in meeting the new requirements.
While 79 percent of center directors have obtained the newly required degrees as of June 2021, just 31 percent and 23 percent of teachers and assistant teachers have, respectively. Fifty-five percent of expanded home caregivers have obtained the necessary requirements, while less than half of home and associate home caregivers have.
Renée Flaherty, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, represents child care workers in a legal challenge against the requirements, which is still pending on appeal.
The regulations “could potentially put hundreds of people out of work,” Flaherty told News4, adding, “The Office of the State Superintendent of Education already requires hours and hours of training and continuing education for all of its day care providers, and many of them have years of experience.”
OSSE told News4 the District offers grants, scholarships and financial incentives for workers to earn degrees. An agency spokesman noted Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal also includes $68 million to “increase access to high-quality affordable child care,” as well as incentives and increased scholarship funds for early childhood educators.
“The goal of the incentives for the current workforce is to improve retention, thereby reducing turnover of high-quality educators,” the spokesman said.
Asked about the potential of again delaying the deadline, which is currently 2022 for center directors and 2023 for most other industry workers, the OSSE spokesman said any changes would be subject to public notice and comment.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper. Photographer Steve Jones contributed to this report.