Republicans File Bill To Overturn D.C. Education Requirements For Child Care Workers D.C. now requires child care workers to get college degrees or specific certificates, but a Republican senator from Utah and House member from South Carolina say that's too onerous.
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NPR logo Republicans File Bill To Overturn D.C. Education Requirements For Child Care Workers

Republicans File Bill To Overturn D.C. Education Requirements For Child Care Workers

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) often argues for local control and limited federal government, though he has sought to overturn a number of D.C. laws. Gage Skidmore/Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/50548268933/ hide caption

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Gage Skidmore/Flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/50548268933/

Two Republican members of Congress are pushing to overturn D.C.'s requirement that child care workers get a college degree, another attempt by federal lawmakers — who the city's residents can't vote for — to get involved in local affairs.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee and South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace filed a pair of bills in the U.S. Senate and House this week that would toss out the four-year-old regulations. Current D.C. law requires that teachers in child care centers get an associate's degree in early education, and that center directors have a bachelor's degree; home care providers and assistant teachers only need a Child Development Associate credential.

Early education advocates and D.C. officials say the new requirements will help elevate a profession that is often seen as merely babysitting or daily entertainment for kids, rather than the start of a child's educational development. And they say that's ever more critical as the city starts moving to expand access to high-quality child care options for kids under the age of three, much as it did when it created the existing free pre-K program.

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But critics say the new requirements are onerous and unnecessary, potentially forcing caregivers — including many immigrants — to take classes they may not have time or money to access. That, they say, could leave D.C. with even fewer child care workers than it already has, and push costs for care even higher than they currently are as pay rises to match the more educated workforce.

Responding to some of those criticisms, in late 2017 D.C. officials gave most child care workers a three- or four-year extension to complete the new degree requirements. While under the initial regulations a teacher at a child care center should have gotten their CDA certificate by last December, they now have until Dec. 2023 to do so.

But Mace, a first-term member of the House, said in a statement that the requirements just need to go.

"It is absolutely ludicrous those who wish to care for children have to obtain a college degree to do so. Yet this is exactly the case in Washington, D.C.," she said in a statement. "As a member of the Oversight Committee, which oversees the governance of the Federal City, it's my job to provide sensible solutions to those struggling in our nation's capital. Unemployment in D.C. is almost in the double-digits, and parents pay more and wait longer for child care in D.C. than anywhere else in the country. My bill with Senator Lee repeals this absurd regulation, giving parents affordable child care options while providing greater work opportunities for those who wish to care for children."

In her own response, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton criticized the two Republicans for intervening in local affairs.

"Senator Lee and Congresswoman Mace are abusing Congress' undemocratic power over the District of Columbia to meddle in local D.C. matters. If they are concerned with occupational licensing rules, they should use their legitimate federal power to introduce legislation that applies nationwide," she said.

In 2016, Lee did actually take a crack at occupational licensing — but with a bill that would only target D.C. This week, he tried to get the Senate to agree to another of his bills that would overturn a new city law that allows minors as young as 11 to get a vaccine without their parent's consent.

Lee, like many other Republicans, says Congress "has the responsibility of overseeing District policymaking," which is true — every bill passed by the D.C. Council has to go to Congress for a 30-day review (extending to 60 days for changes to the criminal code) before it can become law. Republicans often try to use this power to overrule measures they disagree with, though they have only succeeded on a handful of occasions.

But in her statement, Norton criticized Lee for professing to support local control — except when it comes to D.C.

"Senator Lee claims to be a strong supporter of local control over local issues, yet he blatantly and regularly violates this position on local District matters. On Tuesday on the Senate floor, Senator Lee had the audacity to say, while attempting to overturn a D.C. bill, that he was acting because senators are accountable to the people who elected them. He ignores that D.C. has its own locally elected officials, who, alone, are accountable to D.C. residents for local matters," she said.

While it's unlikely that Lee and Mace's bill will have much success in a Congress controlled by Democrats, D.C.'s educational requirements are still facing another threat. In 2018, two caregivers and a parent represented by a libertarian legal institute sued the city in federal court, calling the requirements both illegal and unconstitutional. The case was dismissed a year later on procedural matters, but in 2020 an appeals court ordered that it be reconsidered on its merits.

In Jan. 2021, Judge Rudolph Contreras dismissed the case again, arguing that D.C. was within its power and rights to impose the new requirements. "A conceivable rational basis for the regulations is readily apparent: more early childhood education for child care providers will lead to better child care," he wrote.

An attorney for the Institute for Justice, which is arguing the case, said it has appealed Contreras's decision.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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