Parents trust Dale Sorcher, and toddlers love her. But the daycare police in Washington, D.C., want her fired.
Sorcher has done nothing wrong. She has worked at the same Jewish preschool since 2010 without complaint, and she has impressive credentials.
Besides her daycare job, she works as a licensed clinical therapist and has two master’s degrees. She also has raised three children of her own.
None of that matters to policymakers at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the government department with jurisdiction. They want daycare providers gone, starting in 2023, unless they have at least an associate degree with a major in early childhood development or a closely related field.
Waivers are possible but not guaranteed.
Sorcher has a bachelor of fine arts in dance and graduate degrees in social work and expressive therapy, which leaves her vulnerable in the District. She would be qualified to teach many of the courses required to work in a licensed center, yet unqualified to provide daycare itself.
Government regulators overlook the irony.
They also overlook a national childcare crunch that has left millions of families with limited options during the COVID-19 pandemic. As facilities close or adjust, more than 258,000 daycare workers have lost jobs.
Sorcher herself has had her hours reduced due to social distancing requirements and other precautions.
Some parents have had to quit their jobs to stay home with children, and working mothers have suffered the most. Regulators could not have foreseen the crisis when they pushed for the education mandate in 2016, but they have not backed down as the pain has spread.
Talk about failure to read a room.
Working with our organization — the nonprofit Institute for Justice — Sorcher and another daycare provider have sued for their right to earn an honest living. A May 29 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will force a trial court to consider the merits of their claim.
Meanwhile, other hardships remain for daycare providers nationwide.
A 2017 analysis from the Institute for Justice shows that conditions are especially bleak for home-based daycares. Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Jersey and South Dakota do not require any type of license or registration to get started, but arbitrary and expensive requirements pile up in the remaining 46 jurisdictions.
Rules vary widely.
The process often includes multiple home inspections, education requirements, facility requirements, fees and even government-mandated menus and schedules, much of which goes beyond any health or safety concerns and instead seeks to apply regulatory gild to the daycare lily.
At the low end of the spectrum — in terms of invasiveness — South Carolina requires registration but no license to operate a home-based daycare. Louisiana is even more lenient, requiring registration only when the daycare receives government funding.
Other jurisdictions like New York and Nevada require hundreds of hours of education and experience.
A separate Institute for Justice analysis shows vastly different rules for the number of children allowed in each home. Ten states require an occupational license if home-based providers care for just one nonfamily member for a single day. The requirement kicks in after just four hours in Alabama.
Zoning laws create additional complexity. Many jurisdictions restrict home-based businesses in general, including daycares.
In Geneva, Ohio, for example, residential providers may not care for more than six children at once, and may not operate during evenings or weekends.
None of these hurdles makes sense during normal times, and even less so during a pandemic when parents need flexibility to adjust their lives as needs warrant. Parents, not the government, know best who is qualified to watch their children.
Adding barriers only raises costs and limits choice.
Economic recovery from the pandemic for many will hinge on access to childcare. States that want to jumpstart the process can start by stripping away arbitrary rules that make life difficult for families struggling to find affordable, quality services.
Basic daycare requirements do not change from state to state, and neither should regulatory burdens. Children need love and respect in every jurisdiction, and so do their caregivers.
Rather than push people like Sorcher out the door — at a time when families need them the most — government officials should get out of the way and let the economy heal.