State Sen. Beth Mizell reads to children at Fundamentals Early Learning Center in Baton Rouge during Early Education Week.

The golden rule should apply when evaluating how Louisiana uses video recordings of child care centers: he who has the gold makes the rule.

Last year, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a Department of Education regulation allowing officials to use video recordings as part of child care center inspections. Without prior notice, it could request immediate access to such videos as part of the rating or inspection process. The industry estimates about a quarter of facilities have video monitoring devices.

Many centers have resisted the rule, arguing that the monitors were installed so parents, not the state, could access the live video. Center operators also argue that the video can easily be taken out of context. But the DOE says any recordings could contain evidence relevant to rating and licensing criteria. Because state statutes don't address the matter, the department’s rule-making authority took precedence.

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That would have changed with Senate Bill 71 by state Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton. The bill would have allowed DOE, with advance notice, access to video recordings only when investigating specific wrongdoing. The bill would have prohibited use of such videos for ratings and inspections.

The department argued against the bill’s concept, noting that facilities receive state funds and, therefore, the state has an obligation to monitor the centers, citing the videos as a promising way to keep tabs on daycare providers. Last week Mizell parked her bill. 

While a variety of programs fund child care in Louisiana, with some going to families or businesses employing families, some money goes directly to the centers. Two programs in particular give them tax breaks. The Child Care Provider Tax Credit helps facilities that earn at least a two-star level in the state’s rating system and serve children from foster homes or from families receiving need-based Child Care Assistance Program funds. The School Readiness Directors and Staff Tax Credit helps any center governed under the rating system.

If taxpayers essentially pad the bottom line of operators utilizing these credits, then the centers should be subject to additional scrutiny. That doesn't mean requiring the presence of cameras, but DOE should have access to them for inspections if they exist.

The law should make centers that refuse to make videos available to inspectors ineligible for tax credits that year. To avoid loss of this privilege, a facility could give up its cameras or turn over recordings as part of the inspection process.

Center operators who refuse to give inspectors access to videos should be required to post that fact publicly and mention it in promotional literature.

As for the possible absence of context in recordings, inspections don’t occur in a vacuum. If a center feels recordings inappropriately prejudiced its evaluation, it can always appeal.

The first priority should be the safety of children. Video alone or supplemented with audio can reveal part of what goes on at a child care center, and the state’s interest in promoting quality care, especially with taxpayer dollars in play, more than justifies use of this information to assure extra protection.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com. When the state Legislature is in session, he writes about it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or write to jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.