Last Thursday, November 5th, the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly unanimously passed SB331, a bill that was created to increase safety and decrease fraud within child care programs. The bill includes legislation that 1) requires much more frequent criminal background checks for child care providers, 2) bans individuals convicted of certain crimes from holding a child care license, working in a child care facility, or living in a family child care home, and 3) require the Department of Children and Families to suspend a provider’s license if they are charged with a serious crime and revoke the licensed if the provider is convicted of the crime. The bill also includes whistleblower protection for government employees who reasonably suspect that fraud is occurring/ has occurred within Wisconsin Shares.
WECA believes that all children should have the opportunity to be cared for in a safe and nurturing environment. We support the emphasis on improving safety in child care programs within SB331 including more frequent and supportive monitoring of child care programs and ensuring provider accountability. We are concerned, however, about the financial burden that this bill places on programs as they, their employees, and family members (for family child care providers) are required to participate in much more frequent background checks (see story). Many child care programs, who are already caring for children safely, have limited resources and may need to sacrifice other aspects of quality care in order to pay for these background checks.
What do you think the outcomes of this bill will be? Post a comment and let us know what your opinion of SB331 is.
The State of Wisconsin has returned to the dark ages.
Wisconsin’s child care providers are under attack.
Imagine this nightmare scenario: After years in business, a caregiver is busy taking care of 6, or 12, or 50 happy children, depending on the size of her center, when she gets a phone call from a parent, who tells her that they had just gotten a call from the local Wisconsin Shares office, telling her W2 payments are suspended, and that she must find another child care center. Then the phone rings again. And again. And the provider is out of business, in the course of an hour.
This nightmare scenario has been repeated dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, over the last year.
The woman in this scenario is not accused of a crime. She is “suspected of fraud”. In six or eight months, she may have the right to try to prove her innocence in a court of law. She may try. Of course, her business has died months ago, her clients are long gone. And where can she possibly find the money to pay for attorney fees? Even when she was a child care provider, she never made enough to afford an attorney.
The Wisconsin State Legislature has made a mistake. Its easy to see how it happened. They were trying to solve a difficult problem. Somehow, Wisconsin Shares, the system that was designed with the noble intent of educating underprivileged children, had been corrupted. Several spectacular cases of fraud were discovered, and perhaps it was difficult to get convictions.
So the Legislature suspended the US Constitution.
Child care providers no longer have the Constitutional right to protect our businesses and our reputations. In its ardor to stop the corruption that is supposedly “rampant” in the industry, the legislature has made it legal for the Wisconsin Shares program to suspend a center’s payments, or license, if the department “reasonably suspects that any person has violated any provision… or rule…”. Child care providers are no longer considered innocent until proven guilty.
To make it even worse, the term “ reasonably suspects” is undefined. It is left entirely to the discretion of Wisconsin Shares investigators to determine what reasonable is. And they don’t have to share their reasoning with their victims.
The folks in the Wisconsin Shares program are the same people who enabled this whole fraud debacle in the first place. While it is certainly true that every government agency is susceptible to a certain amount of graft, the Wisconsin Shares program is a managerial nightmare that involves monitoring all of the families enrolled to make certain that the parents report everything that might affect their income levels, such as loss of a job, change of work work, pay rate, marriage or divorce. And for the most part, parents do report. But here’s the rub. If a parent loses their job, they lose their childcare benefits. If they get a raise, they lose benefits. If they marry, they lose benefits. Parents are not motivated to report changes in status, because they are immediately and sometimes permanently punished for doing so. Which means that Wisconsin Shares developed a need for a complicated policing system.
From the other direction, the state contractors (childcare providers) report child attendance, which Wisconsin Shares workers reconcile with the parent reporting. If there is an inconsistency, fraud is suspected, and a center can immediately and without due process, lose its payments or its license.
The Wisconsin Shares folks created a complicated system to reconcile and manage all this data. But then they failed to provide training to their own workers so that they would know how to use the system properly. They never even thought of training the caregivers who are required to use the system. And parents… well, if they new the rules, they might try to get around them.
Apparently, some parents and some providers took advantage of a flawed system.
So the Wisconsin Legislature did the only thing they could think of. They decided to give the people who created this dysfunctional system absolute power over hundreds of legitimate and law abiding Wisconsin businesses.
In the dark ages, when a woman was accused of sorcery, people would tie a stone to her stomach, and throw her in the river. If she floated, she was obviously a witch, and was burned at the stake. If she drowned, her innocence became somewhat irrelevant.
I am told that hundreds of Wisconsin childcare providers have been thrown into the river. Some of them may actually have been guilty of fraud. But we will never know, because many of those people were denied due process. They were simply the victims of incompetent civil servants who claimed that there was “reasonable” suspicion.
I’ve read claims that Wisconsin has saved millions of dollars by stopping this fraud. But in most cases, Wisconsin businesses simply have been destroyed, strong-armed out of business and denied their right of due process. Without due process, the claim to have stopped fraud is disingenuous. The irony is, if a childcare provider made such a misleading financial statement, she would be “suspected” of fraud and crushed out of business.
And how has the state saved money? How many good Wisconsin teachers are now on unemployment from day cares that drowned trying to prove their innocence? How much state tax revenue has been lost?
We have thousands of children who receive W2 subsidies from the state. Without subsidies, these children will never be able to experience a quality early childhood education. Without it, it is almost guaranteed that these children will suffer a series of learning setbacks that will put them behind their peers at all levels of education. Without a quality early childhood education, they will suffer higher high school drop out rates, teen pregnancy rates, and incarceration rates, as well as lower college graduation rates and life-long earning rates.
And that is truly a return to the dark ages.