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How Zoning Regulations Impact Family Child Cares Nationwide

March 31, 2023
Updated September 6, 2023

Cindy Decker, Executive Director of Tulsa Educare, recently experienced a moment of looking around, wondering if anyone is going to speak up about a problem, and realizing: that person is you! Maybe because you hold the keys to connections or the information needed to tell a story; either way, the right person to use their voice and amplify others is the one in the mirror.

This is the position Decker found herself in as she penned an op ed and prepared to speak to her local City Council in support of child care provider (CCP) partners challenging zoning laws in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Impact of Zoning Laws on Child Care Providers

Tulsa is not unlike other parts of the country, facing strict zoning laws that threaten child care providers operating in community homes. However, over 50% of family child care cost locations currently operating in the city risk noncompliance with current zoning regulations. If providers reduce capacity to meet these rules, they significantly diminish child care openings or risk closing altogether.

“Many child care costs are fixed costs (such as mortgage, trash, curriculum access, insurance, etc.) that do not change if providers have to reduce the number of families they serve.”
Cindy Decker, executive director of Tulsa Educare

For most owners, reduced capacity coupled with fixed costs means the business – the child care provider itself – is no longer financially viable.

Addressing the Problem

Thanks to her knowledge of and relationships with local community leaders, Decker knew who to contact to generate support and amplify the voices of child care partners. Through her connections to current City Council representatives, Decker was able to join Tulsa Educare’s CCP partners in sharing the challenges of the current zoning laws through news coverage, personal stories, and data about the need for more child care in Tulsa.

Today, Tulsa is taking a multi-pronged approach to the problem, offering proposed changes to zoning laws and seeking state-level legislation via Bill HB2452. Nationally, other states and cities are also addressing restrictive zoning laws. California and Colorado both recently proposed legislation to prevent city zoning and ordinance from over-burdening industries with excessive regulations.

Why Access to Child Care Matters

Child care providers are vital sources of care for the communities they serve, and supporting these businesses also means supporting cities and their overall infrastructure. Access to child care is not a political issue; it’s a human issue, a parent and family issue. Child care is a community service integral to all other functions in our society.

“WE are the essential workers,” says Tulsa child care provider Mattece Mason. “This is our future – our children – that the city has in its hands.”

This is the third blog in an ongoing series providing updates on Early Head Start Child Care Partnerships (EHS-CCP), federally funded, locally-run programs that bring together the best of Early Head Start and child care through a layering of funding to provide comprehensive and continuous early child development and family engagement services to infants, toddlers and their families. Currently, 13 Educare organizations in 12 states and the District of Columbia administer EHS-CCP grants.

About the Author

Andrew Bourassa is a Program Support Specialist for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program (KVCAP) and a member of the Educare Learning Network EHS-CCP Community of Practice (CoP). The vision of this CoP is to build a community of Network leaders who gain support from one another, share ideas, collaborate on professional development initiatives, and inform the early childhood field through advocacy and policy change. The CoP’s goal is to continue fostering relationships throughout the Network and build on existing connections and structures to assure ongoing communication is effectively supported.