Lawmakers consider lowering bar for employee qualifications in day care centers ::


— Legislation that would give day care centers a two-year break in terms of the qualifications of their staff is nearing passage in the General Assembly.

Staff education is one of two critical components, along with program standards, that the state Division of Child Development and Early Education uses to assign a star rating to child care centers and in-home child care operations.

The star-rating system has been in place since 2000. Centers that earn one star meet the state’s minimum requirements for licensing, and centers can apply for reviews to receive higher ratings. Inspectors visit each center unannounced each year and document any violations found.

During the pandemic, many child care centers lost employees and had to replace them with caregivers who may not have the same educational background. Senate Bill 570 would allow centers to have fewer lead teachers with college degrees – 50 percent as opposed to 75 percent – through June 2023 and still maintain their high ratings.

“It offers some much-needed relief to the early ed community, and it guarantees that families can depend on the quality care they have had,” said bill sponsor Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth.

The bill also would allow centers to skip state inspections that could jeopardize their star rating because of staffing issues for up to six months after Gov. Roy Cooper ends the pandemic-related state of emergency in North Carolina. Inspections have been on hold since the start of the pandemic.

Also, the Division of Child Development and Early Education has two years to conduct a review and report back to lawmakers on why the child care industry has such a hard time recruiting quality educators and what North Carolina is doing to educate and recruit more candidates.

“It’s almost virtually impossible to find people who have an early childhood education degree or an elementary education degree wanting to come into a child care center versus going to a public school system,” said Anne Caspar, the owner of Children’s Discovery Center in Raleigh, which has 200 children and more than 40 staff members.

Children’s Discovery Center has a three-star rating, Caspar said, because of the difficulty in getting staff with the education credentials necessary for a higher rating.

Senate Bill 570 cleared the Senate last month and could be on the House floor as soon as Wednesday. If it passes there, it would head to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Ella Clarke, whose youngest child will be back in day care this fall, said she’s more concerned with basic operations than a facility’s star rating.

“While it’s nice to have a high star rating, at the end of the day, there’s probably things that top the list for most moms,” Clarke said. “The relationships I’m able to have with those that work where my kid goes are really, really important. That’s more important to me than their college education or their education level.”

Still, she said, she agrees with the idea of giving the facilities a temporary break on the standards.

“I think that’s a good idea. I think it’s already hard enough to get teachers,” she said.


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