PGCRC Testimony Concerning HB 1307

March 30, 2021

Testimony Concerning HB 1307:
Education – Child Care Centers and Youth Development Organizations and Programs
Submitted to the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

Jennifer Iverson, Executive Director
Prince George’s Child Resource Center, Largo, Maryland

Over the years, and with even greater intensity in the last year especially, we’ve seen the evidence mount: access to child care is crucial, the child care workforce is crucial, and the quality of child care matters. We also know that quality doesn’t just happen. Quality takes effort, commitment, and investment.

Every day that hard work is undermined in Maryland when we allow unlicensed providers to carry out services. Now there is legislation to weaken Maryland’s strong position on this issue. HB 1307 would create an exemption for certain program providers as “emergency” legislation. This is not the emergency that needs attention.

We should not be in the business of creating a loophole for someone to operate without a license. The public health crisis and economic crisis have presented enormous challenges, but this is not the time to roll back the full approach to licensing in Maryland. We must insist on access to affordable, reliable, licensed child care in all of our diverse child care settings in Maryland.

One of the licensed child care program leaders in Prince George’s may have put it best when she said, “Why are we here? We’ve been over this.”

A child care license is not just a piece of paper. A child care license means a provider meets basic standards for health and safety; it means expectations of training and qualifications; it means this is a profession across any age being served whether it is babies or school-age or in between. Licensure is part of Maryland’s efforts at expanding access to quality child care.

Families are doing their best, choosing from among what they can afford with too often too little support. For many families that idea of a choice is a false one because the price of care puts quality out of reach. And that was before the pandemic crisis.

School-age child care – whether it is before or after school, in the summer months, or supporting virtual learning – requires and deserves appropriate safety and health practices too. We believe that all programs responsible for the well-being and safety of children should be licensed, adhere to basic safety and health standards, and receive the support of monitoring, assistance and resources from MSDE.

The pandemic crisis and the economic crisis have created enormous challenges for child care programs.

  • As of February 7, 2021, according to MSDE data, 181 licensed programs in Prince George’s have not yet re-opened.
  • As of February 5, 2021, according to MSDE data, 898 licensed centers and family child care homes across the state are not yet open and operating.
  • While a majority of licensed settings are open, they face deep challenges of under-enrollment and the pressures of their operating budgets as parent demand is so varied. The economic impact on child care has been devastating. We must stabilize the child care sector and the well-being of people who work in child care.

These challenges are not solved by exempting some child care settings from licensure.

The approach of this bill fails to prioritize the use of unfilled capacity in licensed programs.  This is especially important at time of drastically reduced child care enrollment. Licensed programs have already been vetted and inspected, and their staffs have undergone background checks and training according to Maryland’s standards.  It does not make sense to create exemptions to those standards when so many licensed programs could serve more school age children.

If any child care programs are struggling with licensing, they need support, not an exemption. The Resource Center sees first-hand the local realities and stands ready to help providers and families succeed. We must also rebuild child care better than before, not by exempting some child care settings from licensure.

Even as amended in the House, the bill still has serious and potentially dangerous shortcomings with regard to background checks. Background checks may still be conducted with outside organizations’ protocols, not according to Maryland standards. Child Protective Services checks, an important second layer of vetting, may be omitted.

The bill as amended pulls from disparate sections of COMAR in an attempt to micro-manage regulations through statute in a way that will only apply during unusual circumstances.  All parties, including the bill’s proponents, would be better served by a comprehensive review and revision of the regulations as they pertain to school-age child care.

HB 1307 is not an emergency bill. This is not the emergency. We have an opportunity to address the child care crisis through federal investment, General Assembly leadership, and MSDE action.

We’re committed to spreading the word so that families know their options. We’re also committed to advocating at the federal, state and local level for expanding support for families, and support for providers – dollars to help families pay for child care, dollars to invest in quality programs. And, we’re committed to celebrating the quality provider community. The Resource Center helps ensure child care providers are respected, appreciated and supported in their work to foster thriving families and communities.

Please oppose HB 1307. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to talk about ideas for supporting child care in Maryland.