Local daycares debate accepting government money to help pay fees

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PHOENIX – Susan Ryan is the executive director at Agelink. Ryan was stunned after the state legislature ordered the Department of Health Services to raise its daycare licensing fees. The increase was exponential going from $150 to $7,800.

“First reaction was of course was panic. How in the world would we do this?” Ryan asked.

Carole Challoner is the principal at Benchmark. She had the same reaction. “We were floored. We were floored at the increase."

The Department of Health Services stepped in. “We knew centers would either go out of business or they would pass on the costs to parents who would not be able to afford it and then children would be left at home or in unsafe child care settings."

To help daycares absorb that added expense, DHS offered them unspent federal money but that federal money had some strings attached. It had to be spent promoting child health. 

Jeannette Shea says, "We had the opportunity to both off-set those costs for the child care centers and at the same time offer them an opportunity to do something they already wanted to do."

That something is called The Empower Pack which is a list of 10 rules created by the Department of Health. The rules include everything from serving 1 percent milk to serving meals family-style and limiting screen time.

Daycare centers agree to implement the rules in order to get the discount.

The Goldwater Institute calls it nothing less than a bribe. Attorney Carrie Ann Sitren says, "If an agency doesn't have the power to step in and make the daycare center follow its rules, certainly they should not have the power to step in and say you can save yourself thousands of dollars if you just follow our rules."

For Ryan, accepting the discount was a no-brainer. She says, "It never felt like a bribe. It never felt like a 'have to', it was a thank you because those rates were going to be really high without it but we weren't being asked to do anything that was unreasonable."

Challoner, on the other hand, didn’t feel right taking the money. "We felt we were being bullied in order to sign the papers to get a half-price fee."

It’s not the rules that bother Challoner. She objects to being told how to run her school. "If you offer this money, then offer it without ties and that keeps daycare open and doing the jobs they know."

As for what’s next, Sitren says "One of the things we're looking at is whether or not the legislature had power to delegate to the agency first the amount of the fee that's set and second, all and any standards that might come with those fees."

To see the entire Goldwater Report go to http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article/6196.
To read over the Empower Pack go to http://www.theempowerpack.org/.