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‘A big deal’: Boise task force recommends changes to child care licensing process

Four-year-old Greyson Weber, right, and 3-year-old Zander Gonzales play with toys at Giraffe Laugh in Boise. (Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
Four-year-old Greyson Weber, right, and 3-year-old Zander Gonzales play with toys at Giraffe Laugh in Boise. (Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun)

If approved, local providers hope it lowers one barrier to hiring new teachers

Editor’s Note: This is the third in an ongoing series of articles related to child care issues and lack of state support for early childhood education. The first story can be found here, and the second is located here

For child care providers in Boise, finding a potential employee who already has a license to care for children is like finding a unicorn. They are special, rare and competitive.

In nearly every city surrounding Boise, including Meridian and Eagle, an employee needs only to pass a background check with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, have proper training in CPR and first aid and commit to four hours of training per year to be able to start working.

To obtain a child care license from the city of Boise, applicants must complete checks with the Child Protection Registry for every state they have lived in in the past five years for any complaints or violations made with child protective services that would not show on a standardized background check. Idaho’s results typically come back quickly, but other states can be slower, with up to 45 days to send results back to the applicant. The applicant also has to complete CPR and first aid training, pay a worker license fee of $37 and complete a fingerprinting and background check for another $45.

In most cases, someone applying to work for a Boise child care center obtains a city license after securing the job, in part because of the costs to apply. The average time it took to approve licenses in 2020 was 17 days, according to the city of Boise, but in some cases, it can take up to eight weeks. No temporary or provisional licenses can be granted in the interim, which Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, said presents a barrier to the hiring process for providers in Boise, who are already struggling to find workers.

“Imagine being a child care provider and you want to go work in child care for less than $10 an hour, and you have to pay a big fee for licensing, and you also have to wait four to six weeks sometimes to start working, often with no benefits,” Oppenheimer said.

Lori Fascilla, director of the three Giraffe Laugh child care centers in Boise, said the cost and the waiting periods are huge issues for her centers because people can’t wait weeks on end for a job and the staff she has left is having a hard time.

“We’re freaking out about it,” Fascilla said. “We’ve got empty classrooms because we just can’t hire enough teachers.”

Idaho is one of, if not the only, states in the country that allows cities to create separate licensing standards for child care providers as long as the standards for background checks and training are as strict or stricter than the state’s standards, Oppenheimer said. The result is a patchwork system of varying sets of regulations — all of whichstill fall short of every other state and territory of the United States, according to a Child Care Aware report from 2013.

Idaho ranked 52nd in the report, behind Puerto Rico and Guam, based on program and oversight standards such as training and safety practices, staff to child ratios, inspection frequency and teacher credentials.

“I don’t like it that the cities have their own licensing, I wish the state would raise the standards and then get rid of all the city licensing,” Oppenheimer said.

Along with Boise and Kuna, 11 cities across the state have their own process, including Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Jerome and Ponderay.

City of Boise task force suggests temporary licensing, waiving fees

The city of Boise formed a task force in March to address existing child care hurdles in the city and better understand the needs of child care workers, providers and parents. The group included representatives from various groups around the valley, including the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, the United Way of Treasure Valley, the Treasure Valley YMCA and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Natalie Munro, a communications coordinator for the city of Boise, said the task force met several times between March and September to develop recommendations for the city to implement. The recommendations addressed the areas of affordability and accessibility of child care, as well as the process of hiring new employees and retaining them. The task force report hasn’t been posted publicly yet, but a copy was obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun.

“In the economic recovery task force that (Mayor Lauren McLean) asked for prior to this, one of the top recommendations for economic recovery was child care,” Munro said. “We saw a lot of problems out of COVID with people returning to work and the impact it was having on the industry. So because of that, we wanted to look at this and see if there was anything we could do to help.”

The task force recommended that the city of Boise start issuing temporary licenses to child care workers, which is something the state and most other licensing bodies offer, Munro said.

“That’s something that logistically we’ll have to work through internally, so that’s something we’re definitely looking at,” Munro said. “It’s not a snap of the fingers change.”

The temporary license would still require a standard background check, which typically doesn’t take more than a few days to complete.

Many of the changes will have to be implemented through changes to city ordinances, she said, which must be approved by Boise City Council.

In addition to the temporary licensing recommendation, the task force recommended waiving the city’s license renewal fee of $65 for the next two years.

“That’s a big deal, because … some programs are able to cover those costs, and some are not,” Oppenheimer said. “So I think the city taking this action and recommending that those fees are waived for the next two years really just relieves a lot of pressure not only on the individual provider, but the owners and directors as well.”

The task force also recommended having the city provide training for CPR and other required training for licensing. The typical cost for CPR and first aid training, according to the report, is about $40.

Boise task force members still pushing for more change

Another member of the task force was Belen Guillen, owner of Acuarela Spanish Preschool in Boise. Guillen’s preschool is small, with 12 children and one other teacher, so the licensing and hiring process changes will only have a small effect on her school.

The bigger issue for her is equal access to quality preschool education and livable wages and benefits for teachers.

“The teacher situation is so important, because if the teacher feels more protected and the pay is good and they have insurance and many more options, for sure it will help a lot for the program and curriculum, because the teacher is more relaxed and happier,” Guillen said. “I am worried for many programs and program equality, because it’s not cheap, and it’s not the same possibility for other students of other social classes.”

The task force report did include recommendations for using federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act that would provide wage enhancements and other funding support as needed and proposed private sector initiatives that could help with funding needs.

Those initiatives include a private collaborative business fund for scholarships, a business co-op for providing child care to workers, providing vouchers to ensure child care for employees, and incentivizing housing developers to build space for child care within new communities.

“Businesses need to have some skin in the game,” Oppenheimer said. “… I do think that businesses can come in and play a key role in helping. Talking about wages of our child care providers, if businesses would invest dollars to support our child care businesses so that they could raise wages and have an easier time hiring, that would benefit businesses across the city tenfold.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.