POLITICS
09/30/2013 07:03 pm ET

Government Shutdown Would Close Exclusive Washington Day Care

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WASHINGTON -- It may be Romper Room inside the halls of Congress. But some kids attending actual day care in Washington are the ones about to be punished.

The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, which provides day care and schooling for 100 children ranging from age 2 months through kindergarten, is in jeopardy of closing if the federal government shuts down. The center's campus is essentially the federal museums on the National Mall. If they shut, so will the school.

"We have to because we are in a federal building," explained Kimberlee Kiehl, the center's executive director. "Our schools are in the museums. ... There's no way we could move over 100 kids somewhere else."

The Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, according to its website, has three centers, including two at the National Museum of Natural History and one inside the National Museum of American History. If the shutdown goes through, the kids would have a half-day on Tuesday. The center would be closed after that until the shutdown ends.

On Monday, the 2-year-olds learned about emotions and visited the National Gallery of Art to look at emotions in paintings, said Kiehl. There was no lesson on continuing resolutions and furloughs.

The teachers for the 2-year-olds and for the other classes have yet to figure out just what to tell the children about the shutdown. "We are still working through what we should say," Kiehl said. "I would like Congress to come and tell them why they can't go to school on Wednesday."

The center is one of the most exclusive day cares in Washington. The majority of the school's rolls are the children of Smithsonian employees. The remaining spots are coveted and filled through a waiting list joined by anxious parents the moment their kids are born. The center conjures an idyllic early learning experience. Even the babies are taken into the museums for lessons. "We see ourselves as a lab school," Kiehl said. "We test curriculum and we do research on our work. We aren't just a child care center."

Parents, Kiehl said, are not happy with Congress. "I think everyone's frustrated right now," she said.

Other day cares may close during a government shutdown as well. In a memo sent to Environmental Protection Agency employees, administrators cautioned that child care services could be halted. "Government owned and operated child day care centers will be closed throughout the duration of the government shutdown," the memo says. "Privately owned and operated child day care centers will likely be open, but employees will need to confirm schedules with day care providers."

It's not clear just how many day care sites the government operates. Dan Cruz, the spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration, issued a statement that addressed the issue in part. He noted that GSA's child care centers aren't government entities and "can remain open and operations can continue during a government shutdown."

But "there are more than a dozen federal agencies outside of GSA that manage child care programs," Cruz stated. "Parents should check with their local provider to confirm operational status."

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