The staggering cost of child‐care – especially in high cost of living areas such as the District of Columbia – is well known. Well‐intentioned regulations often drive up these costs without materially improving the quality of care, but new legislation proposed by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) in the House of Representatives and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) seeks to undo one of the most ham‐fisted requirements in the District: that child‐care providers must have a degree.
In December 2016 the DC City Council adopted new rules establishing minimum education requirements for the staff of child‐care facilities. Councilmembers argued that a 2015 report from the National Academies showed child‐care workers falling behind new developments in early childhood development and education. The new rules required directors of child‐care facilities to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, lead teachers to have at least an associate’s degree, and for home carers to have the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential. The idea was that this would improve the quality of childcare in terms of child development.
A massive pushback from childcare workers and daycare centers against these onerous requirements led to Mayor Bowser’s administration extending the deadlines for acquiring the qualifications: home caregivers were given until December 2019, directors until 2022, and lead teachers until December 2023. Those who had continuously served in their roles for 10 years were also exempted from the requirements, giving favorable treatment to established providers against new market entrants.
But the major economic costs of the regulations remain. The time and money cost of acquiring the now‐necessary credentials deters worker entry to the sector, or else encourages exit for those without the 10 years’ experience. The resultant lower supply of workers will raise childcare prices relative to where they would be without the regulations. Older Mercatus Center research has estimated, for example, that requiring “lead teachers to have at least a high school diploma is associated with an increase in child care costs for infants of between 25 and 46 percent, or between $2,370 and $4,350 per year, per child.” Given this is a much lower educational standard, we’d expect the price impacts of the DC legislation to be higher still.
These types of regulations are regressive. Data from Childcare Aware of America shows that already full‐time care for a toddler in a childcare center in DC has an average cost of $23,017 per year, a massive 83 percent of the median income of a single parent. Such high costs reduce the payoff to returning to work for many individuals, or else result in substantial reductions in post‐care disposable incomes, which could be used by families for other ends.
Proponents of the measures argue such requirements improve childcare quality. But what about the quality of care afforded to those priced out of formal childcare as a result, who then have to find more informal arrangements? And what about the quality of job opportunities afforded to the would‐be workers?
To the extent “quality” is meaningful, it should surely be judged by parents anyway. Some families may just want a safe environment for their child while others may prioritize an environment that will stimulate cognitive development. Providers would be perfectly free to maintain and advertise that they only hire those with these qualifications absent the requirements, if that is something they believe parents demand. Let parents themselves judge the price‐quality bundle of any given supplier, rather than enshrining a very technocratic conception of what good quality childcare looks like.
The new legislation proposed by Rep. Mace and Sen. Lee would, in effect, deliver this freer market. It simply says:
Any provision of Chapter 1 of Subtitle A of Title 5 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, as added by the final rulemaking of the State Superintendent of Education of the District of Columbia issued on December 7, 2016, that requires a staff member of a child development facility to have a degree, a certificate, or a minimum number of credit hours from an institution of higher education, including sections 164.1, 165.1, 166.1(a), 170.2(a), 173.3, 174.2(a), and 174.2(b), shall have no force or effect.
These regulations are also being challenged in court, but should this legislation pass, the DC law requiring minimum education and certification levels would be no more than words on paper and District officials would have no legal authority to enforce the education requirements.