State Child Care Program in Decline
Number served has dropped 21%, affecting early development of low-income kids.
Wisconsin’s commitment to affordable child care for working families has waned in recent years, making it more difficult for child care providers to work towards improving the quality of child care, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.
Many parents with low incomes wouldn’t be able to afford to work without the child care subsidies provided through the Wisconsin Shares program. In 2015, Wisconsin Shares served 46,000 children each month, on average. But the number of children served by Wisconsin Shares has fallen considerably in the past few years, declining 21% between 2008 and 2015. The decline in rural areas has been the most severe.
There has been an even steeper decline in payments to child care providers over this period, with payments dropping by 36% since 2008. Payment rates have been nearly frozen over this period, meaning that inflation has chipped away at the amounts paid to providers, and the state has implemented policies that result in lower payments to providers.
At the same time that the state is squeezing child care providers financially, it has implemented a new initiative to encourage providers to improve child care quality. That’s a laudable goal, and there has already been significant, measurable improvement in the quality of child care since the program was rolled out in 2010. But progress has slowed, and the report identifies stagnant provider rates as a major obstacle to continuing forward movement: “A primary disincentive for programs to meet high quality standards is the steady decline of the core funding through Wisconsin Shares.”
High-quality child care can provide long-term benefits for children, and give them a leg up on helping them reach their full potential. According to the report, “[D]ecades of science from many disciplines all point to the same conclusion: the healthy development of young children provides a strong foundation for educational achievement, economic productivity, life-long health, and responsible citizenship.” For many children, their child care setting plays an important role in that healthy development. If we want to continue our focus on helping children get the best start, we need to make sure Wisconsin’s child care payment policies support that goal rather than undercut it.
Read the full report: Are We at the Crossroads for Wisconsin Child Care? Policies in Conflict