Long-awaited legislation requiring more day-care center workers for infants cleared a key House committee Thursday.
“This bill will finally take (away) that horrible stigma of having the worst ratio (of adults to children) in the United States,” said Pam Field, operator of two Boise day-care centers.
But some day-care providers said it will cause worse worker-tochildren ratios for older kids. Their concerns made passage of the measure difficult, following debate over the value of a complicated formula dictating the number of day-care center workers needed for different ages of children.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Sali, R-Meridian, said it was essentially better than no bill at all.
“There’s something for everyone to hate in this legislation,” he said. “It is a great improvement, though.”
The current state day-care law has an across-the-board ratio of one adult for every 12 children. Critics say that standard is unrealistic when it comes to infants.
The proposed law would require one adult for every six infants 18 months or younger, one adult for every 12 children up to kindergarten age and an adult for every 20 socalled “latch key” children of kindergarten age or older attending a center when school is not in session.
Day-care providers and parents testifying Thursday were torn over parts of the legislation, praising the improved infant ratios but often criticizing the 1-20 ratio for older children. “I feel that’s a very unrealistic ratio,” said Brenda Breidinger, associate executive director of the Boise YMCA, which operates 15 centers.
Shannon Asbury, a mother of two who waited three hours to testify against the measure, said it was trading off service for one group of children against service for another.
“It’s very obvious that this bill is poorly written,” she said. “You guys can’t even agree as to what the bill says.”
Brian Sopatyc, president of the Idaho Private Child Care Association, said the measure, while improving the adult-infant ratios, will drop costs because staffers will be able to handle more older children.
That will help many parents at a time when child care can eat up $3,500 of a parent’s salary, putting an extreme squeeze on those earning $10,000 to $15,000 a year.
“If they have two children or three children, it’s impossible,” he said.
Rep. Millie Flandro, D-Pocatello, said the different ratios are acceptable if children from each age grouping are kept in separate rooms. But she painted a scenario in which two infants, three 2-year-olds and 15 5-year-olds could be supervised by a single worker.
“I can see those 5-year-olds running over those 18-month-olds,” she said.
Flandro proposed amending the bill so some mixed age groups have a ratio of 1-12, but her proposal was narrowly defeated.
Sali’s measure was then approved 8-3 for a vote by the full House. Among the North Idaho representatives, Reps. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls, voted yes while Carol Pietsch, D-Sandpoint, voted no.