At least 13 times in the last 18 months, Department of Health Services investigators have found one or another of Steve Broe's American Child Care Centers to have more children per adult caregiver than the law allows.

And last fall, Craig Barton's Camelback Desert School in north Scottsdale, which offers preschool, kindergarten and first- and second-grade programs, was fined $1,500 for consistent noncompliance to DHS regulations.

Yet Broe was appointed by House Speaker Mark Killian and Barton by Senate President John Greene to sit on the Child Care Standards Review Committee, which was mandated by law to evaluate the state's child-care laws.

Until now, before- and after-school child-care programs run by public schools were exempt from DHS regulations--if not from their governing school boards' oversight. With last year's Senate Bill 1005, our legislators changed that, and they established the Child Care Standards Review Committee to make sure that the DHS rules could be tailored to fit school programs, as well--and in the spirit of deregulation, to snip away as many pesky overregulating rules as possible along the way.

Why even occasional violators of the rules should be charged with evaluating them--Broe co-chaired the committee--is anyone's guess. By wild coincidence, both contributed to the 1994 campaign funds of Governor Fife Symington and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham. So did a Tucson child-care provider and lobbyists for both the Arizona Child Care Association and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, who also sit on the committee.

Graham, in her past life as a state legislator, was one of the sponsors of the bill that created the committee. Another member of the 12-person committee works directly for Graham at the state Department of Education and votes as she commands. Still another was appointed by the governor. The remaining five people at the review table were appointed by outgoing superintendent of public instruction C. Diane Bishop, who is now a gubernatorial aide. Those five could have been replaced by Graham, but were apparently left in the name of fairness. But they constitute a minority.

"The committee was stacked," says Barbara Robey of the Arizona School Boards Association. "It was stacked from the very beginning and there was a definite objective in mind: to make it more difficult for the public schools to provide the kinds of programs they've been providing."

The stacked deck made for a Republican card trick disguised as public hearings to illustrate how serious we are about free enterprise and deregulation here in Arizona, the Business State.

The Child Care Standards Review Committee held its last meeting on June 27 and will present its scant recommendations over the next few months. In the end, the DHS regulations read pretty much the same as they did when the committee started. It cost $39,400 in facilitators' fees to decide not to change the rules.

And in the name of deregulation, Lisa Graham's bill added a raft of regulations to the schools she is now charged with overseeing, regulations that some committee members say will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for school boards to administer, just so that the entrepreneurs who run the Arizona day-care industry won't feel that the public sector is encroaching on their profits.

Whether public school child-care programs really compete with private day-care facilities is questionable. Some high schools offer child care for the children of teenage students who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend school. They'd have to drop out to care for those children or to pay for private day care.

Before- and after-school programs cater to school-age children whose parents have inflexible work hours, first- to sixth-graders who really wouldn't want to take the shuttle bus to Itty Bitty Daycare to sit among preschoolers. Those children are more likely to become latchkey kids. Yet the child-care people see them as potential clients, and they see elective after-school programs--computer club, perhaps--as a disguised form of child care.

Such programs are usually regulated by school boards, and if they are run by private operators on school grounds, they are already licensed by DHS.

"The thing that's so ironic and hypocritical," says Robey of the school boards association, "is there are so many people who say schools should be open longer and should offer more programs to their students. There's this dual standard that the schools should do more, but we make it more difficult to reach out to children."

Just how many schools offer such programs no one knows. The committee's December report included this laughable statistic: ". . . the potential number of schools in the state which may have one or more child-care programs is between 1 and 1,108 public schools as of September 1."

Lisa Graham claims that the initiative to set equal standards for public and private entities had been bouncing around the Legislature for years.

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Michael Kiefer