Taking care of a child takes a lot of things—patience, creativity, and kindness rank high among many other attributes—but the one thing it doesn’t take is a college degree. But don’t tell that to Washington, D.C. regulators in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which recently enacted a regulation requiring the city’s daycare providers to either obtain a college degree or look for another job.
For Ilumi Sanchez, a D.C. daycare provider who has taken care of dozens of children since 1995, the regulation—which takes effect next year—will be devastating. Between the time she spends watching nine kids during the day and taking care of her family in the evening, earning an unnecessary college diploma is a non-starter. That is only compounded by her limited English skills and the five-figure cost of tuition. Once the regulation takes effect, Ilumi’s only choice will be to either shut down or move elsewhere and leave behind the families that have grown to see her as a part of their family.
That’s why, Ilumi, along with a parent and another daycare provider, partnered with the Institute for Justice to file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of D.C.’s daycare education regulation. The lawsuit argues that the OSSE overstepped its authority and violated the plaintiffs’ rights under the U.S. Constitution.
“You don’t need to know how to integrate a function or write in iambic pentameter in order to take care of a newborn or toddler,” said Renée Flaherty, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents the plaintiffs. “Daycare providers already go through a battery of training covering real-world needs like first aid and early development enrichment. Requiring them to spend two to four years studying subjects like English literature, math, or public speaking will only serve to drive them out of business, drive up daycare costs, and make finding a daycare in the District even more impossible than it already is.”
It is not just common sense that it doesn’t take a college degree to take care of a kid. Science bears that out, too. In 2015, the National Academies of Science released a comprehensive report on early childhood education, which found that there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating that a college degree would have beneficial effects on early childhood development.
The OSSE’s arbitrary rule, which was passed without input or oversight by the city council, comes at a time when D.C.’s childcare marketplace is already strained beyond the breaking point. District parents pay more for childcare than in any other state—an average of $23,089 per year for an infant. Waitlists for a spot at a daycare center can run over a year. It is not uncommon for parents who get on a waitlist as soon as they are pregnant to find themselves without a spot once their child is born nine months later. In 2015, licensed day care providers had roughly 7,610 slots for the 22,000 children under age three in D.C.
“Taking care of kids takes more specialized and personal traits—experience like caring
and patience, not reading and writing,” said Ilumi Sanchez. “They don’t teach those skills in college. You learn those by doing them—and I’ve been doing them for nearly 25 years.”
Ilumi continued: “I love my job because I love kids. It is hard to have a bad day doing what I do. But, since the regulation passed, it has been hard to stay positive. Families depend on me, and I depend on them. I may not have a degree, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“We love our daycare,” said Jill Homan, a D.C. mother whose daughter attends a D.C. daycare. “They give our daughter exactly what she needs—a warm and welcoming environment where she can learn and play. Our daycare providers are nearly family members, and we’d be devastated to lose them because of an arbitrary regulation.”
In 2017, following widespread outrage by parents and providers alike, OSSE proposed extending, but not eliminating the education requirements. Now, five months later, it has taken no action on the proposal. In the meanwhile, the rules start going into effect in eight months.
“As people across the political spectrum recognize the enormous burdens created by unnecessary occupational licenses, D.C. officials have chosen to make the problem worse by demanding an empty credential in order to care for a two-year-old,” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “D.C.’s regulation is only the latest example of how arbitrary and unjustified occupational regulations serve to lock people out of making a living doing jobs they know and love. Ilumi and hundreds of other daycare providers have a constitutional right to earn an honest living.”