BATON ROUGE — New licensing regulations are on the way for Louisiana’s child care centers and preschool programs, after a majority of state education board members backed the rules Tuesday.
The vote was 7-2 from a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, with nearly all board members present. Final passage was expected Wednesday.
The changes add fingerprint-based criminal background checks for employees and volunteers, require centers to post their daily schedules and set minimum staffing ratios. The changes are part of an effort to improve the quality of the centers.
Education board members refused requests to increase required staffing levels to oversee 2-year-olds, after some child care center owners said the changes would be too expensive. But the board agreed to toughen continuing education requirements, which was sought by child care experts.
Lawmakers required the Department of Education to rework the licensing guidelines as part of an early childhood education revamp started in 2012 to better prepare children for kindergarten. Licensing authority of day care facilities, Head Start centers and other pre-K programs was shifted from the state social services department to the education department.
Development of the regulations involved more than a year of work among state health and safety agencies, the education department and the child care centers. For the most part, groups praised the results.
“The document protects children and families,” said Jodi Loar, a day care center owner and member of the state’s Early Childhood Care and Education Advisory Council.
But child care center operators, early childhood experts and education board members clashed over the level of staffing that should be required to supervise 2-year-olds.
Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the nonprofit Policy Institute for Children, said research shows the age is one of the most critical times of brain development, and she said the children need intensive attention.
“We are so far away from where we need to be for our 2-year-olds,” Bronfin said.
She and others sought a tiered system that increased required staffing levels as public funding increased for early childhood programs. But the idea faced resistance from some day care center owners who said it would force them to either raise charges on parents, stop taking 2-year-olds or shut their doors.
“I don’t want to charge them what I’m going to have to charge them to stay in business” with the higher staffing requirements, said Julie Brandt, who owns three child care centers in Prairieville and Baton Rouge.
Superintendent of Education John White suggested setting the current staff requirement for most types of child care facilities at one employee for every 11 2-year-olds. The education board agreed to White’s recommendation.
Board member Carolyn Hill said she worried increasing staffing requirements could boost day care costs so high that it would force some parents to keep their children at home or arrange other sorts of child care that don’t include any educational component.
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