Institute for Justice · August 12, 2022

WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit challenging an Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) requirement that day care providers obtain a college degree before taking care of kids.  

Ilumi Sanchez, a D.C. day care provider who has cared for dozens of children since 1995, challenged the requirement in 2018, along with a parent and another provider. Their lawsuit, in which they are represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), alleged that the college-degree requirement imposed huge costs on day care workers without teaching them anything useful about caring for infants and toddlers. Initially adopted in 2016, the regulations still have not gone into effect, as D.C. officials have responded to the lawsuit by repeatedly delaying the effective date of the new rules and exempting certain sorts of workers (including Ilumi) from the requirements entirely. 

“The fact that D.C. officials have spent the past half-decade slowly retreating from their disastrous rulemaking is pretty good evidence that the college-degree requirement was a bad idea in the first place,” concluded IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty. “But today’s ruling clears the way for D.C. officials to go forward with their initial plan to throw countless loving, experienced childcare providers out of work because they don’t have the right piece of paper to change a child’s diapers.”  

The college-degree requirement would require day care providers to take advanced math classes or electives on Shakespeare, even though many of the city’s day care providers are immigrants who cannot afford college and may not speak English as a first language. But the court’s opinion found that was perfectly rational: “A variety of courses outside the early-childhood major, from math and English to art and history, could be beneficial to someone tasked with the educational development of toddlers,” the court’s opinion explained, “as any adult who has been flummoxed by a two-year-old repeatedly asking ‘why’ can attest.” 

D.C. is already the nation’s most expensive market for childcare, a problem that will only be made worse by requiring workers to get college credits in “math and English [or] art and history.” But under the terms of the District’s latest rulemaking, day care workers without an associate degree will be out of a job by 2023.  

“If the government can force you to take college classes in anything a two-year-old might ask about before you can take care of toddlers for a living, the government can do just about anything,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bob McNamara. “The question for D.C. regulators—and for D.C. parents—is why in the world they would want to.” 

“Today’s opinion treats the right to earn an honest living as something government regulators can grant or take away based on their slightest whim,” concluded Scott Bullock, IJ’s president and general counsel. “But fundamental to the American Dream is the right to choose how you provide for your family—including when you choose to do so by caring for other people’s families. IJ will continue the fight until courts nationwide treat that right with the respect it deserves.”