There’s a new feature at summer camp this year. But it’s not a new swimming hole or playground. It’s Big Brother looking over the shoulders of daycare centers.
Arizona’s Division of Licensing Services (DLS) has created a new program to control activities from TV time to the number of times water is offered each day. While DLS doesn’t have the authority to freely reign over private daycare centers, it has found a way to use fees to force private organizations to submit to its preferences.
Until 2010 daycare licensing fees cost $150 every three years regardless of how many children were enrolled. Last year, rates rocketed to $7,800 for the largest childcare centers. For many small centers, the new $1,000 fee proved too much to sustain. This year, the government offered some relief. Childcare centers can cut their fees in half if they agree to 10 new standards, including serving meals “family style,” meaning all kids eat from the same bowls, serve themselves as much or little of each food as they want, and are free to eat dessert without finishing their plates.
Arizona law does not permit an agency to use licensing fees for whatever Simon Says. Licensing fees must be tied directly to the cost of the regulation. In industries where health and safety concerns are obvious, like caring for children, licensing is the most popular and traditional way to regulate. In a perfect world, fees and regulation should go hand-in-hand, so that the people who are regulated pay directly for their costs. The money should pay for things like background checks, facility inspections, and investigations.
But these new daycare center license fees are clearly not tied to the cost of regulation. It costs no more to license a daycare center that serves 1% low fat milk instead of 2% milk. The agency is using fees to coerce daycare centers to follow standards that ultimately are not within the agency’s power to make. DLS should stop bullying daycare centers and stick to traditional health and safety concerns.
Carrie Ann Sitren is an attorney with the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
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