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Monday, August 15, 2022

“Child care deserts” across the state cause legislators to propose ideas from federal policies, presented by the Department of Children and Families to committee members at the Capitol Wednesday. 

Legislators propose bill, straining child-care providers amid statewide deficit

When looking for daycare options, parents across the state reported trouble finding options close to their home — or at all. 

“Everywhere we called had a two year waiting list,” Theresa Smith of Washington County told Fox 6 News.

Some parents feel forced to consider quitting their jobs. 

The closing of Oneida County’s Rocking Horse Child Care Center created concern for Minocqua parent Luke Yelton. 

“I’m not in a position to quit my job and nor is my husband, and trying to find an alternative day care is very difficult here,” Yelton said to ABC 9.  

Daycare facilities across the state are closing due to the high cost of operation caused by new regulations and deficit of child care staff members. 

However, Mark Andrews, director of the Bureau of Early Care and Regulation, believes it’s “much bigger than the rules.” 

Andrews claims Wisconsin is facing a shortage in childcare providers, with some especially neglected areas called “child care deserts.” 

These “deserts” are ZIP codes with three times as many children as available certified child care slots. The Department of Children and Families released data showing a consistent drop in licensed child care providers over the years, with a decline of 5,000 providers since 2010. 

“We certainly have spent a lot of time identifying child care deserts and are keenly aware of the current crisis that is going on in child care. We’re in the process of coming up with some new strategies,” Andrews said. 

The Department of Children and Families brought legislation to the Committee of Children and Families Wednesday to update Wisconsin law regarding child care provider certification, licensing and background checks and align with the federal Child Care Development Block Grant. 

The proposed bill also attempts to address the current statewide concern of child care deserts through more flexible practices allowing relaxed child-to-staff ratios for centers. 

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The CCDBG was signed into law November 2014, which spurred advancements in defining health and safety standards for child care providers, provided framework for eligibility policies and the promotion of awareness regarding child care choices accessible to guardians. 

If passed, Rule 19-089 would increase pre-service and continuing education requirements to cooperate with federal law. Prior to this legislation, there was little mandatory training and providers could remain certified indefinitely with no renewal. The bill would ensure training is completed within three months of the provider’s certification or once work at a child care facility begins. 

Committee chairman Rep. Patrick Snyder, R-Schofield, raised concerns on who was fronting the fiscal responsibility of these new requirements, asking whether it would place an additional burden on the already stretched-thin child care providers.

Representatives from the Department of Children and Families explained the burden would be on the child care providers themselves, not taxpayers. 

“The fiscal effect is not anticipated for the department per say, but there could be potential implications for local organizations as they have to implement some of these rules, shift some of their needs,” Nayda Perez-Reyes, Legislative Advisor of the Department of Children and Families, said.

Funding would also go toward ongoing professional development programs, ranging from individual studying to online and in-person courses. The law would require a minimum of five hours a year of continued education. 

Rule 19-089 was signed by Gov. Tony Evers on Sept. 12 and may see a floor vote in the upcoming session.  

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Kylie Ver Kuilen

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