Early Years Column
The proposed federal "act for better child-care services," which already faces steep hurdles, now is also under attack from private providers.
Chances for passage of the $2.5-billion measure have dimmed amid controversy over the federal government's role in subsidizing religious institutions' child-care centers.
In the meantime, some private providers have been seeking to block the bill because they object to the standards it would set. The bill would create rules on health and safety, child-staff ratios, staff qualifications, and parental involvement.
Three private child-care chains are lobbying the Congress to defer action on the bill in order to give "more careful consideration" to the standards, according to Jane M. Sullivan, a lawyer for the firms.
They include Kinder-Care Learning Centers Inc., which operates 1,135 centers in 40 states; La Petite Academy, with 660 centers in 28 states; and Gerber Children's Centers, with 127 centers in 14 states. The National Child Care Association, which includes 3,000 for-profit centers, has launched a parallel lobbying effort.
The private providers maintain that setting national standards based on the median state level of regulation is inappropriate because of economic, cultural, and geographic variations among states.
"There is no evidence that the regulations in 25 states" below the median "are inadequate," said Mark L. Rosenberg, n.c.c.a.'s vice president for government affairs.
The private centers also say the rules could raise prices, drive providers out of business, and force parents to seek cheaper, unlicensed care.
The Children's Defense Fund and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees are continuing to press for federal standards, however.
The two groups stepped up their campaign for the a.b.c. bill this month by delivering toy trucks to members of the Congress.
"There are more safety regulations on this toy than on the day-care center that owns it," read an attached message. "Unfortunately, no effort is being made to pass legislation that will protect childen on an even larger scale--while they're in day care."
The District of Columbia school system has become the first to provide Head Start services in private homes.
The system is using part of a $1.9-million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to license 10 day-care providers to offer education, social services, food, and health care in their homes to 50 children in the Head Start program.
The family day-care homes will serve children in smaller groups and in a more familiar setting than center- or school-based programs offer.--dg