For several years, Nevada's state Bureau of Services for Child Care has been pressing for regulations that would change the ground rules for all licensed Nevada child-care centers, requiring them to shift to a more-expensive "developmental" model, even though it would price more low-income parents out of the child-care marketplace.
Repeatedly, however, the bureau's efforts have foundered on the skepticism of governing boards and committees. In 2006, the state Board for Child Care sent back controversial regulations of essentially the same sort that bureau officials have recently proposed. The bureau, said the board, should consult with more providers, educators and others than before and then return with proposals less controversial.
Finally, last November bureau officials won board approval for their package of new regulations and were able to advance to the next step this year — placing them before the Nevada Legislature's Interim Commission, for final approval.
Yet both times in 2009 that the child-care regulators brought their proposed new rules before Nevada lawmakers — first the Interim Commission itself, and then the commission's Subcommittee to Review Regulations — they were sent away. Each time, after hearing the new rules' pros from the state's bureaucrats and cons from the operators of licensed child-care facilities, lawmakers were left discernibly — if oh-so-tactfully — puzzled at the child-care services bureau's insistence on imposing its controversial new regime on the industry.
At a Feb. 9 meeting of the Legislative Commission, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley — the most powerful potential ally that child-care regulators could hope for — sent them clear warning signals.
"I picture my son's child-care facility, and they had such warm, loving, older staff who'd been with them for years," said Buckley, "and they could do a lot more with one person than I think some of the other child-care facilities who had young people taking care of the kids could do with less experience.
"I worry about putting a burden on some of these child-care facilities who are facing lots of other cuts — the cuts of our child-care system's budget which we're trying to not cut anymore and maybe add a little bit back. We have so many — obviously with the economy — so many challenges on so many small businesses like this that I'm just concerned about the timing. …"
Buckley then suggested to fellow commission members that they ask the child-care services group to withdraw the two harshest and most controversial recommendations — mandates for greater staff-to-child ratios and new, compulsive staff training — and return later with the non-controversial remnant.
After other commission members — including State Senator Randolph Townsend, the commission chair — greeted Buckley's idea warmly, the deputy state administrator for the Division of Child and Family Services, Barbara Legier, told the commission, "We'd be happy to do that," and Townsend said he would consider the regulation withdrawn.
However, when child-care-services officials appeared before the commission's Subcommittee to Review Regulations, on April 22, the core elements of offending draft regulations were still in the proposal.
Melissa Faul, chief of the Bureau of Services for Child Care, told the subcommittee that the Legislative Commission had directed her agency to take the controversial draft rules "out … and put a new phase-in period on those, which was a two-year phase-in period."
Actually, if commission minutes are accurate, commissioners never said that. At best, Townsend gave the agency a choice: Either come back "with a new regulation that addresses the issues that are driving the problem" (i.e., the mandatory and costly new requirements), or "simply withdraw the regulation," allowing the commission to "move on from there."
Townsend was also a member of the subcommittee, and in April he pressed questions that revealed other discrepancies.
Although both Faul and Amber Howell, acting deputy administrator for the Division of Child and Family Services, told the subcommittee that their controversial proposed regulations were based on "national standards," that appears inaccurate. Instead, the rules were merely adopted from recommendations of private, national activist and advocacy groups that wish their rules — and their preference for the developmental child-care model — be widely adopted and made into national standards.
Townsend also drew out how far over the line — into an essentially legislative, if not positively authoritarian, role — the unelected bureau and board had strayed.
Townsend: "Were there any bills that came out of the legislature and were signed by the governor that required any of this?"
Townsend: "Thank you very much."
Steven Miller is vice president for policy at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.