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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate Passes Three Bills To Simplify, Strengthen Oversight Of Early Childhood Education Programs

June 9, 2021

DOVER – The Delaware State Senate passed three measures on Wednesday designed to assure parents that all early childhood education providers in Delaware are meeting health and safety standards while making it easier for families to access critical early intervention services for their children.

Sponsored by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay and Rep. Kim Williams, Senate Bill 169 would add early childhood education programs operated by public and private schools to the list of providers licensed by the Delaware Department of Education’s Office of Child Care Licensing (OCCL). Currently, those facilities are exempt from the licensing requirements that must be followed by independent and privately-operated childcare providers.

“Protecting the safety of our youngest children must be our top priority no matter whether the facility is run by a family, a small business owner, or a school,” said Sen. Gay, D-Talleyville.

“Yet under Delaware’s current regulatory structure, some early childhood education programs are not required to ensure their teachers and staff have CPR and First Aid training, and they don’t have to tell the state when a child has been left unattended, among many other basic health and safety standards most parents would expect,” she said. “The location of a provider should not dictate the safety of the children they serve, and OCCL has considerable experience in lending providers the support and technical assistance needed to meet state licensing standards.” 

SB 169 also would increase the fines OCCL can impose when providers violate the Delaware Child Care Act by failing to obtain a license from $100 per violation to $1,000.

The Senate on Wednesday also passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 55, which calls on the Department of Education (DOE) to establish a single set of quality standards for family child care, childcare centers and licensed early education programs in public schools.

Those programs now are required to meet multiple standards, including licensing regulations from the Office of Child Care Licensing and quality standards set by the Delaware Stars for Early Success program managed by the University of Delaware on behalf of the state Department of Education. The layers of regulations require providers to adhere to multiple standards, maintain duplicate sets of student records, and work with various compliance specialists – a system burdensome for both families and providers.

In 2019, the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation to consolidate the oversight of both licensing and quality regulations under DOE. The legislation also directed the department to ensure the Delaware Stars program standards are consistent with OCCL regulations by July 2020. To date, DOE has not yet combined those standards.

SCR 55 also sponsored by Sen. Gay and Rep. Williams directs DOE to recommend consistent regulations to the General Assembly by October 2022 and propose any necessary code revisions by January 1, 2023.

“I believe the resolution passed by my colleagues today sets out a reasonable timeline for the department to develop streamlined standards for our childcare providers and the families they serve,” Sen. Gay said.

Senate Bill 136, sponsored by Sen. Laura Sturgeon and Rep. Williams, seeks to further streamline early childhood education governance in Delaware by consolidating intervention services for children with disabilities under DOE.

Currently, special instruction, speech therapy, occupational therapy and other intervention services provided to children from birth to age 3 are governed by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, while the same services offered to anyone between the ages of 3 and 21 are overseen by DOE.

Consolidating state oversight of programs related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B and Part C into one department will allow for better continuity of services for families, redacted paperwork and an alignment of data systems.

“The current governance structure of these programs dates back to the 1990s and probably made a lot of sense back then,” said Sen. Sturgeon, D-Brandywine Hundred, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “But over the last 20 years, states have moved to consolidate these programs into a single department that has expertise in the area of early childhood education. This move will bring much needed clarity and simplicity to Delaware’s programs while eliminating confusion for families, many of whom are already struggling to navigate the difficulties of raising a child with a disability.”

SB 169, SCR 55, and SB 136 now head to the House for consideration.

“Research tells us just how vitally important early intervention and high-quality early childcare can be for the future success of a child in school and into adulthood. Whether it’s children who are experiencing trauma or poverty, or who have unmet special needs, with the right targeted approach we can identify those children most at risk for negative outcomes and work to counteract those forces,” said Rep. Kim Williams, the prime House sponsor of the legislation and chair of the House Education Committee. “These pieces of legislation are key components of that effort; I commend Sen. Sturgeon and Sen. Gay for their work to advance them and I look forward to their passage in the House.”