SALT LAKE CITY — To hear one state lawmaker tell it, private child care providers can't compete with child care programs that operate in public schools.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, says state lawmakers need to rectify what he perceives as unfair competition with public schools and nonprofit providers that operate child care or preschool programs in schools and are not subject to the same regulations, overhead or tax burdens as competing private providers.
"I'm talking about public-based competition," Anderson said Wednesday during a meeting of the Utah Legislature's Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee. Anderson is also president and chief executive officer of ABC Great Beginnings, a private child care provider.
But leaders of school-based programs and nonprofit organizations that contract to operate in public schools countered that their programs are subject to many regulations and strive to provide needed programming and child care for children in low-income families that may not have transportation to private providers.
"Those programs are aimed at leveling the playing field for those in need, not usurping the private market," said Mike Zody, who serves on the board of directors of United Way of Salt Lake.
Community advocate Pamela Atkinson said an extended school day program at Rose Park Elementary School in Salt Lake City has helped low-income children make significant academic gains and ensures they are not unsupervised when the traditional school day ends. "Academically, socially they're doing so much better. They have not been out on the streets or at home as latch-key students."
But Pat Marino of the Utah Private Child Care Association said public sector subsidies of child care programs has stifled growth of licensed child care providers.
"In essence, we pay their bills and they get the breaks," Marino said.
Janice Dubno, senior policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children, said the decline in the number of licensed child care providers was largely due to a 2006 change in Utah Department of Health rules that eliminated regulations for in-home providers.
"There has been growth, I believe, in the unlicensed market," Dubno said.
Private providers say school-based programs have other advantages such as marketing. Unlike programs that have contracts to operate in schools that can send home fliers to families seeking after-school care or other programs, private-sector programs are not allowed to advertise this way.
"They denied us access with our fliers. Only their partners were given permission to market the program" within the school, Marino said.
The legislative committee plans to further examine the issues over the summer to determine if any changes in state law are needed. Public, private and nonprofit providers attending the meeting were asked to contribute to those discussions.