Friday, November 17, 2017

D.C. Delays New Degree Requirements For Childcare Workers

(WAMU) - D.C. officials say they will give childcare workers in the city more time to comply with a new requirement that they obtain an associate’s degree or other higher education credential.

The requirement was put into place late last year, making D.C. one of the few places in the country to mandate higher education for childcare workers. Under the new rules, teachers at childcare centers and caregivers at home-based centers are required to get an associate’s degree in early childhood education, while assistant teachers at childcare centers and associate caregivers at home-based centers are required to get a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate.

While city officials said the new degree requirements would help elevate a profession that is now seen as an integral part of a child’s education, critics worried it would burden already busy childcare workers and could make childcare in D.C. — already among the most expensive in the country — even more costly.

Responding to some of those concerns, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) said Friday that it was extending the deadline for childcare teachers to get an associate’s degree by three years, from Dec. 2020 to Dec. 2023. Caregivers at home-based centers will get a four-year extension, from Dec. 2019 to Dec. 2024. For assistant teachers at childcare centers and associate caregivers and home-based centers, they will have another year — from Dec. 2018 to Dec. 2019 — to receive their CDA.

Elizabeth Groginsky, the assistant superintendent of early learning for the D.C. OSSE, said the extension reflected a balancing act between implementing the new requirement and giving childcare workers enough time to meet them.

“They felt it was very important, they saw the value, they understood why this was necessary to raise the level of quality,” she said. “But they felt they would need more time, some because they needed to take more developmental courses. Others for whom English is not their first language felt that they wanted to achieve these new credentials but they just needed more time.”

When the requirements were unveiled last December, they prompted a debate over whether D.C. was leading the way or simply throwing more unnecessary obstacles in front of childcare providers. A scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute called the new requirements “burdensome” and “nonsensical,” and said they would drive workers into other professions since their average pay is low — roughly $26,000 a year.

That D.C. is offering an extension for the requirements has not mollified some critics, including Renee Flaherty, an attorney at the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice.

“The fact that OSSE is watering down its new regulations shows even more clearly that they’re not necessary,” she said. “A college degree requirement still makes no sense, no matter how long people have to comply. It’s an empty credential made even emptier by a lack of urgency.”

But Groginsky said Friday she stands behind the education requirements, and says that as more research explores the importance of early education, D.C. officials wanted to find ways to raise quality across the board.

“This really came about from what we had seen over the years in terms of the level of quality in centers where we saw teachers who had higher education credentials,” she said.

City officials say the new education requirements will D.C. at the forefront of early education relative to most other jurisdictions, which are still working to expand access to pre-K programs — which D.C. already has.

“D.C. is just in a very different place than most other states are, because we have had universal pre-K3 and 4 since 2008 and so we’re really now pushing past that to say, ‘How can we increase quality of care and learning in the earliest years, from birth to 3?’, which is a stage that most other states haven’t even gotten to contemplate,” said State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang.

To further help childcare workers meet the education requirements, Kang says D.C. is partnering with Trinity University — one of only two universities in D.C. that offer an associate’s degree in early childhood education — to hold classes at childcare centers starting next year.