States face day-care dilemma


WASHINGTON -- State officials are warning that new rules proposed by the Bush administration would make it much harder to enforce basic safety standards at thousands of child-care centers used by low-income families around the nation.

The new rules, published June 25 in the Federal Register, say states must set identical standards for day-care centers receiving certain types of federal aid and for those receiving no public money.

If the rules are adopted, the officials say, states would face an unpalatable choice: relax standards for publicly subsidized day care; apply stringent standards to a number of unsubsidized private day-care providers, including churches and private homes, which had previously been beyond the reach of state regulation, or relinquish the federal aid.

Already, Florida is relaxing its minimum standard for staff-to-child ratios at day-care centers receiving public funds.

And state officials elsewhere say the new rules would make it harder for them to assure that publicly supported day-care centers meet such basic safety measures as having smoke detectors or fire extinguishers on the premises.

The federal government wants to limit state regulation so that parents will have the widest possible choice of day-care providers. But many states want to impose health, safety and training requirements to guarantee some accountability on the use of federal and state money.

If ". . . the public is paying for services, we ought to ensure that those services are safe," said Kay C. Tilton, director of licensing and day care in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. "To that end, all subsidized care should be regulated."

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