“YoungStar,” a Nobel-Laureate Economist, and YOU

We all benefit from YoungStar – Wisconsin’s proposed child care quality rating and improvement system. On June 23rd the funding for this critically needed program will be determined by the Joint Finance Committee. Fully funding YoungStar is an essential and strategic investment Wisconsin must make and here’s why:

Quality Child Care is one of the best possible investments of public and private funds. Studies reveal that children who experience quality early care are less likely to need remedial education, less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system than their peers in lower quality care. They are also more prepared for kindergarten, more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to have higher paying jobs. At-risk children in particular are shown to have the most to gain or lose from the quality of care they receive.

Dr. James Heckman, an economist and Nobel Prize winner from the University of Chicago has repeatedly demonstrated the economic benefits of investing in early care and education. “Investing in quality early learning programs is the most efficient way to affect school and life success and to reduce social expenditures later,” he says. Dr. Heckman’s work with the Partnership for America’s Economic Success cites a return of up to $17 for every dollar spent on high quality care.

Wisconsin’s children deserve high quality child care. Today, around 70% of Wisconsin’s children age birth to 5 receive care outside the home. In the past decade, an explosion of research on brain development has identified practices that help children set a strong foundation that lasts into adulthood. Sound nutrition, safe environments, nurturing and skilled caregivers and stimulating activities that spur a child’s social, emotional and mental growth are part of high quality child care. Fostering and rewarding these best practices are key components of YoungStar.

YoungStar resolves a major problem in the Wisconsin Shares child care system – a lack of measuring performance and quality. How many businesses would invest close to $400M in a system with no plan in place for measuring performance and quality? With YoungStar, child care programs throughout Wisconsin, especially those that participate in the “Wisconsin Shares” program will benefit from assessment and improvement practices. Wisconsin’s workforce of 31,000 child care providers will be prompted by YoungStar to continuously improve their quality of care and be rewarded for it. YoungStar sets a five-star rating system for child care providers and rates them on staff education, learning environment, business practices and the health and well being of children. Through this rating system the state will address several key issues in Wisconsin’s child care system. It will create incentives for providers to improve services, particularly for low-income children; offer child care providers of low-income children higher payments for higher quality; and build on existing programs and services that already help improve quality.

YoungStar will give parents comprehensive data on child care quality. YoungStar will provide information on one of the most important decision parents make – where to go for child care. Think of it as a “Consumer Report” for Wisconsin child care.

YoungStar and similar quality rating systems have been field-tested and piloted in Wisconsin and in 20 other states. Nationwide, 20 states have implemented child care quality rating and improvement systems similar to YoungStar. In Wisconsin two recent pilot projects have been implemented: “Grow in Quality” (2005-07) and “Together Quality Grows” (2009).

The benefits of assessing and improving the quality of child care in Wisconsin are far reaching and affect us all. Business depends on quality child care; parents depend on quality child care; and child care providers across the state have been ready for a quality rating and improvement system for over 6 years. On June 23rd we urge all members of our state’s Joint Finance Committee to do what is wise and good for all of Wisconsin – approve full funding for and implementation of YoungStar.

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