Report That Says DC Requiring Child-Care Workers to Get College Degrees Triggers Backlash

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A new report that says Washington, D.C. is requiring child-care workers to get college degrees is inspiring a bipartisan response of disbelief and outrage online.

The Washington Post reported Friday on the city's new licensing regulation for child-care centers, which is part of a "nationwide effort to improve the quality of care and education for the youngest learners."

D.C. education official Elizabeth Groginksy called it a "real opportunity to build the profession," but the article lays out the expenses involved for a job whose earnings are low.

But for many child-care workers, who are often hired with little more than a high school diploma, returning to school is a difficult, expensive proposition with questionable reward.

Many already have more training than comparably paid jobs such as parking lot attendants, hotel clerks, and fast food workers. And unlike most professional fields, prospects are slim that a degree would bring a significantly higher income: a bachelors degree in early childhood education yields the lowest life-time earnings of any major.

Center directors have few resources to tap if they want to reward their better-educated employees. Many parents in the District are maxed out, paying among the highest annual tuitions nationally at $1800 a month. And government subsidies that help fund care for children from lower income families fall well below market rate.

The new credential requirements follow a 2015 report from the National Academy of Sciences that states, in sum, that "teachers of infants and toddlers require the same level of sophisticated knowledge and skills expected of elementary educators, and they should likewise be expected to have bachelors degrees," according to the Post.

At the same time, the report urges policy makers to use caution when increasing minimum credentials to avoid unintended consequences, including workforce shortages, reduced diversity in the profession, and pressure on out-of-pocket costs for families.

The District set the minimum credential for lead teachers as an associates degree, rather than a bachelor's, because of such challenges, Groginsky said. The deadline to earn the degree is December 2020. New regulations also call for child-care center directors to earn a bachelors degree and for home care providers and assistant teachers to earn a CDA.

Media figures across the political spectrum–from Vox and The Atlantic to The Weekly Standard and Independent Journal Review–tweeted their disgust.

The Washington Post article profiles several child-care workers dealing with the new requirement. The director of the Kids Are Us Learning Center in Southeast Washington said one employee already had to quit because she could not commit to going back to school.

Another employee said she already owes back tuition and could not log onto her online courses until she has paid off the bill. Others said they found the mandated education enriching.