INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers on the Family, Children, and Human Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill Thursday allowing public schools to circumvent licensing requirements to provide child care, but several expressed reservations and called for further work.
“I will give my yes on one condition that (the bill’s author, Rep. Craig Snow) work on it,” said Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis. “Sometimes I think people come in and make a big bill for a problem that could be fixed with a little communication.”
Snow said certain requirements of the Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees child care, make it difficult for school corporations to open child care centers for their staff or for the community.
“We’re trying to make it easier for schools to allow more child care in communities,” said Snow, R-Warsaw.
Four people testified in support of the bill, all from Kosciusko County, which they called a child care wasteland, meaning the community did not have enough child care centers to meet the needs of parents who working.
Ryan Zimmerman, human resources director at Syracuse-based Poly Wood, said his company wanted to grow and hire more employees, but was limited by the availability of childcare.
“I’ve come across situations of existing employees who had to leave their jobs after having children because they couldn’t find affordable childcare in the area (and)… Other situations where employees we tried to hire in other counties, other cities and other states — they had to turn down their jobs because they couldn’t find reliable child care,” Zimmerman said.
A local school corporation attempted to address the shortage, but ran into trouble when it applied for several license exemptions.
The FSSA does not permit a school to offer multiple programs, such as infant/toddler care, after-school “key” or preschool programs – which the district has attempted to do.
To circumvent FSSA regulations, the program closes once every ten business days – every other Friday – which means it is not considered a licensed child care provider.
Sherry Searles, director of Kosciusko’s Child Care and Early Learning Coalition, said the school corporation would continue to comply with FSSA licensing requirements even though it was exempt.
“We were thrilled when our local school district stepped in over the past 12 months to say they would offer their buildings as safe places to care for their children,” Searles said. “The programs we work with both take (childcare) vouchers and work on past equality, which means they have a lot of oversight and regulations and state visitors come in. see.”
But Searles said other programs could potentially choose not to meet those requirements, a concern for lawmakers.
Representative Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, said without staff ratio requirements, centers providing infant care could be understaffed, a dangerous possibility that puts children’s lives at risk. State law requires one caregiver for every four infants and increases the number with older children.
“I understand the need for care, so people can go to work… But key lock is very, very different from childcare and without that permit how are you going to assure parents that that ratio is met? Rowray said. “I want there to be the possibility of having childcare, but… without this permit, I have a little trouble with that.”
The ten members present voted for the bill. Snow said he would work on the wording of the bill to address the committee’s concerns.