First, the good news. The Joint Committee on Finance unanimously approved the Governor’s proposal for a $3.9 million increase for home visiting in each year of the biennium. The support for home visiting is encouraging.
Now, the bad news. Two critical proposals to improve child care were rejected. The implications are serious.
- No Increase in Child Care Provider Reimbursement Rates: $24 million annually
A motion to increase child subsidy payment rates by $24 million annually to increase maximum reimbursement rates was rejected on a 4-12 partisan vote. The motion would have brought subsidy maximum payment rates up to the 50th percentile. The vote that passed 12-4 supported the Governor’s proposal that does not increase the subsidy rates, despite the serious decline of the rates. The payment rates have dropped from the 75th percentile of the market price a decade ago to the current low ebb of the 23rd percentile market price for child care slots. In other words, the payment rates will not cover the price of 75% of child care in Wisconsin, and the problem will only increase over the biennium. This is likely to result in many low-income working families unable to pay the price of child care and needing to look for other options. The continued rate freeze will lead to child care providers increasingly unable to serve low-income children and will cause programs to stop participating in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program. The decline in child care subsidy payments in recent years has been drastic, with a decline in over $130 million, and a severe drop in the number of children receiving subsidies.
- No Increase for TEACH Scholarships and REWARD Stipends: $10 million annually
After hopeful discussions in the weeks leading up to the May 23 Joint Finance meeting, the final decision was to reject any increase for TEACH and REWARD. The four Democrats on the Committee offered a motion to increase funding by $10 million annually. The vote was rejected on a 3-12 partisan vote. Child care programs are facing a crisis in attracting and retaining qualified teachers. TEACH scholarships and REWARD stipends have long waiting lists. I anticipate hard times ahead for the child care field.
A personal comment: I have been involved in efforts to improve affordable access to quality child care in Wisconsin for 40 years, working with hundreds of resolute colleagues. Great progress was made in the child care subsidy program and in the quality improvement efforts for several years. But in the last decade I have seen a growing crisis including the decline of affordable access and the lack of investment in quality. I am especially concerned for poor children and families and children of color, and for the dedicated but low-paid child care workforce. We know that affordable access to high-quality child care, with effective, qualified well-paid teachers leads to our children’s readiness for school and beyond.
Early Education Policy Analyst