Oklahoma child care providers are struggling for financial survival as the Oklahoma Department of Human Services keeps adding regulations without providing additional subsidies to help providers meet new requirements, child care operators complained Tuesday.
“We're kind of feeling the crunch from all sides,” said Cyndi Johnson of the Linwood Early Learning Center of Oklahoma City. “Everyone is just like hanging on by their fingernails and every new regulation you pass … it's all so overwhelming.”
Johnson was one of about 200 private child care providers who showed up at a meeting called by DHS supervisors Tuesday afternoon to allow them to voice concerns about agency regulations.
The emotional meeting was held on the eve of a state Child Care Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, during which the committee is expected to vote on a 138-page revision to state child care regulations.
The committee meeting will be held in a large room on the third level of 50 Penn Place, 1900 Northwest Expressway in Oklahoma City.
Several child care operators urged DHS officials to ask the committee to delay its vote until a long list of concerns they raised Tuesday could be taken into consideration.
Even if the committee approves the new regulations, they would still have to be approved by the Legislature and governor before they would become effective, officials said.
Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for DHS, said agency officials are sympathetic with the providers' pleas for more money.
“We have requested more money for child care from the Legislature every year since 2009, but the Legislature hasn't provided that,” Powell said.
The agency is asking for a $15 million increase for child care providers in its next budget, officials said.
Powell said child care providers had input into the proposed regulations through a subcommittee of the Child Care Advisory Committee that includes members of different types of child care facilities.
Child care provider Chris Vian of Children's Lighthouse III in Oklahoma City complained that current income thresholds for child care subsidies are inadequate.
Low-income parents are being forced to choose between continuing to work while not receiving DHS assistance, which can force them to pull their children out of child care centers, or quit work and receive a variety of public assistance, including child care, he said.
“We have had parents at our facility that have had to make this choice that no longer attend our facility and instead we have 11-year-olds watching infants, which I think we can all agree is just not a situation that we want to be in,” Vian said.
Vian also complained that assistant teachers have to pay more than $100 for Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation background checks and other mandatory requirements just to get started.
“Is there any way to help offset this cost, providing scholarships for teachers that cannot afford this because they are looking for jobs?” he asked. “Right now, because of this cost, we are losing qualified individuals in our child care centers because they simply cannot afford to start being a child care provider.”
Johnson said parents have come to her in tears because they can't afford required co-pays to keep their children in her child care center and have complained they were treated rudely when they discussed their concerns with DHS workers.
“It's bombarding us from all sides, but at the same time, we're supposed to step up, go get additional training, go enroll in college classes, do all this,” she said. “Don't we matter, too.”
Jennifer McCord of the Oklahoma Child Care Association said the association supports regulations that benefit children, but is concerned about all the unfunded mandates.
“The regulations are increasing, but there is no money to back up what we're supposed to do,” she said. “It costs more and more and more to run a center ... . Yes, we are trying to protect our children and do what's right for our children, but they also have a business to run and they have to make some money to cover expenses.”
Michelle Owens of Child Care Inc. in Oklahoma City read off a long list of new requirements that will be imposed on child care providers if proposed regulations are approved. She said she is willing to support them — but only if more money is provided.
The regulations are increasing, but there is no money to back up what we're supposed to do. It costs more and more and more to run a center ... . Yes, we are trying to protect our children and do what's right for our children, but they also have a business to run and they have to make some money to cover expenses.”
Oklahoma Child Care Association