A committee of Louisiana’s top school board Tuesday approved new oversight rules for 2-year-olds in child care centers despite arguments that the standards will be too lax.
The requirements are expected to be approved Wednesday by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is grappling with the issue as part of the state’s overhaul of its pre-K system.
After more than three hours of public testimony and debate, the committee voted 7-2 to require that there be at least one teacher for every 11 2-year-olds in the centers.
Backers said the regulations strike a balance between safe practices and affordability. A higher teacher-to-toddler ratio would force huge fee hikes that have to be shouldered by parents and guardians, backers of the committee-endorsed plan said.
Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Policy Institute for Children in New Orleans, urged the panel to endorse a ratio of one teacher for every nine 2-year-olds.
Bronfin said the national standard is one teacher for every five students of that age.
“They are not easy folks to deal with,” she said. “Imagine trying to get those folks out of the building into a place of safety in case of fire.”
Alan Young, former president of the Child Care Association of Louisiana, questioned the feasibility of the tougher standards.
“Do I wish we could do 1:8? Heck yes. But our parents cannot afford it,” Young said.
Critics of the higher level of staffing argued that parents could face charges of $2,000 more per year to finance the additional supervision.
BESE President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge, said lowering the required student/teacher ratios without providing additional funding to the centers makes no sense.
The rules stem from a 2012 law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal designed to improve a pre-K system marked by uneven standards, varying quality and confusion for parents.
State Superintendent of Education John White said his agency and officials of Head Start, child care centers, and public and private pre-K operations have worked for the past 18 months to hammer out new rules to govern the system, with agreement on most topics.
However, the student/teacher ratio issue triggered lengthy arguments on the merits of more intense supervision versus what is affordable. The issue is complicated, officials said, because of drops in state aid through the Child Care Assistance Program, which many low-income families rely on to place their children in the centers.
Under the department plan that won committee approval, the minimum ratio would be trimmed to one teacher for every 10 toddlers by July 1, 2016, if certain financial conditions are met.
Bronfin’s plan relied on slightly different financial assumptions to take effect.
A bid to endorse it failed 3-6.
However, the committee backed her request that employees of child care centers undergo at least 12 hours of training annually by state-approved instructors.