Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bills to reform childcare facilities and protect diversity in school curriculums head to Senate

Delaware Legislative Hall in Dover.
Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall in Dover.

The Senate Education Committee clears three bills to reform early childhood care practices in Delaware, as well as legislation to protect teaching the history of marginalized groups in social studies classes.

State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay’s (D-Talleyville) legislative package includes bills to modernize the Office of Child Care Licensing’s (OCCL) records system, allow for more competitive salaries and bolster the screening process for potential childcare employees.

The first piece of legislation is a resolution requiring OCCL to adopt an electronic record system that provides an online application process for providers.

Gay explains digitizing the current paper system used by the office will allow for more up-to-date information on educators, potential employees during the hiring process and licensing applications.

Lisa Ratliff, owner and director of The Little School at Kids Cottage, says updating the filing system would be "life changing."

"At the present time, we do a very long, hand-written application. We snail mail it to the Office of Child Care licensing — never know if they receive it. Two months later they come and do our licensing inspection. By that time, 20 things have changed on our application," Ratliff said. "We are in desperate need of a modernized system that will allow us to actually operate in real-time."

Gay's second bill would eliminate the existing and outdated salary schedule for childcare licensing specialists, supervisors, and administrators, allowing the Department of Education to provide compensation to OCCL staff that is equitable with the rest of the department.

"What this bill would do is remove what I feel is a perverse incentive for an individual to move out of a job that they like and that they're good at and they're experienced at and they can train other people in, and into another job simply because of the pay," Gay said.

Her third and final bill would strengthen the service letters that prospective childcare professionals with prior experience must provide to healthcare and childcare facilities before they can be hired.

The bill would require service letters to include statements from prior employers regarding any concerns they have about the job candidate working with children and any warnings, reprimands, suspensions or discharge the job candidate received during their previous employment.

Gay says the early childhood care industry is in a unique position where it is asking to be better regulated after seeing a continued lack of resources and an increase in facility incidents.

The one-time legislative costs to implement the bills could range from $1.5 million to $3.5 million with recurring annual costs totaling around $1 million, but Gay hopes the fiscal notes won’t deter legislators from addressing the problems.

“Bills like this need to highlight the disparities that we see and the issues that we believe are contributing to increases in accidents and abuse and neglect in spaces that should be safe for families, safe for children," she said.

Senate Education Chair and member of the Joint Finance Committee Laura Sturgeon (D-Brandywine Hundred) says she strongly supports the package and will do her best to advocate for the funds during the budget writing process if the bills become law.

The committee also heard a bill from Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) that could include Delaware in a number of states in ensuring Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) experiences and histories are integrated in K-12 classrooms.

The movement to mandate teaching AAPI history has largely been led by the nationwide organization Make Us Visible, but Townsend wanted to take the concept a step further.

His legislation would require the Department of Education to update content standards and regulations using a non-exhaustive list of racial, ethnic and cultural groups.

“The ultimate intent is to make sure that the AAPI community, as well as all groups, see that Delaware law, whether it’s in code, or in this case it would be in [regulations], values them, honors them, makes it explicit and is not something that we hopefully would ever undertake to change in the way that Colorado did," he said.

Townsend is referring to 2022 drafted social studies curriculum updates in Colorado that struck references to Asian-Americans and the LGBTQ community, although they were eventually restored.

The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee and now awaits consideration on the Senate floor.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.