Governor Doyle Announces “YoungStar,” a Quality Rating and Improvement System for Wisconsin

Last Friday, January 22, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA) representatives joined Governor Jim Doyle at Malaika Early Learning Center in Milwaukee as he announced details of YoungStar, a new five-star quality rating and improvement system for Wisconsin child care programs. WECA believes this program will: improve the overall quality for children in child care, provide a tool for parents to identify and select quality child care, create incentives to improve services to low-income children, link quality to Wisconsin Shares payments, and provide a mechanism to further prevent fraud in the Wisconsin Shares program. We urge organizations and individuals to join us- the largest professional association of early childhood educators in our state-in taking a stand for high quality child care for Wisconsin’s youngest citizens by supporting this program.

YoungStar sets a five-star rating system for child care providers based on education, learning environment, business practices and the health and well being of children. Training and technical assistance funding within the program will provide opportunities for child care providers to improve their program and better serve the children in their care. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) will submit the final plan for YoungStar to the Joint Finance Committee in the coming weeks.

Caregiver Background Check Law to go Into Effect

In November 2009, the Caregiver Background Check Bill (SB331), was signed into law by Governor Doyle. The bill- created to increase safety and decrease fraud within child care programs- will go into effect February 1, 2010 across the state. 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) requires the Department of Children and Families to suspend a provider’s license if they are charged with a serious crime and revoke the license if the provider is convicted of the crime.

All Wisconsin licensed child care programs recently received a letter from the Bureau of Early Care Regulation outlining some of these specific changes. The state will perform background checks on license holders every 3 months (licensees will be charged $10 per check), on licensee household member once per year, and on employees of licensees once per year. Licensees will be notified when they need to pay for these checks. Additionally, if licensees, their household members, or their employees are convicted of certain crimes, they will be permanently banned from providing child care in the future. Examples of these crimes include first/second degree reckless or intentional homicide, kidnapping, and armed burglary. Additional crimes carry a permanent ban for licensees or certified providers only. These crimes are broad and include identity theft, felony forgery, felony retail theft, and felony cable theft. A complete listing of these crimes were included in the letter from the Bureau of Early Care Regulation.

Governor Doyle Signs Mandatory Kindergarten Bill into Law

Last week, Governor Doyle signed AB119-a bill that changes current mandates regarding enrollment in, and completion of, 5-year-old Kindergarten- into law. “This legislation will help ensure that all kids in Wisconsin will get off to the right start in school,” said Governor Doyle in a released statement. Beginning in 2011-2012, completion of 5-year-old Kindergarten will be a prerequisite for entering first grade in any Wisconsin public or charter school. School districts will be allowed to make their own rules for parents and guardians to receive an exemption from this mandate. Along with enrollment and completion requirements, the bill also calls for regular attendance by 5-year-old Kindergarten students throughout the school year.

Budget Passes Assembly, Signed by Governor Doyle

The Conference Committee version of the Wisconsin state budget passed through the Assembly on Friday evening with a vote of 51-46. This version of the budget, along with a comparison with the original Senate and Assembly versions, can be viewed here. This joint version allocates $1,500,000 in 2010-2011 for 4-year-old Kindergarten start-up grants (in addition to the $3,000,000 that is allocated in 2009-2010). It also limits the total number of hours a child can receive child care under Wisconsin Shares to 12 hours per day. Some exceptions can be made- with proper documentation- to extend this limit up to 16 hours per day.

Governor Doyle received the current version of the budget and signed it into law today at 11:00am. He also issued a public statement discussing his veto choices that have been added to the budget. You can read that document here. Included in his vetoes are changes to how hours are authorized within the Wisconsin Shares child-care subsidy program and the circumstances under which the Child Care Program Integrity Unit can investigate a child care provider’s use of Shares funding. These changes are discussed in detail on pages 13 and 14 of the Governor’s veto message. To overturn any one of Doyle’s vetoes, the Legislature needs two-thirds of its members to oppose it.

Conference Committee Meets to Discuss State Budget

A six-member team of legislators have formed a conference committee to iron out differences in the Senate and Assembly versions of the Wisconsin state budget. Representing the Senate: Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston; Mark Miller, D-Monona; and Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Representing the Assembly: Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville; Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake, and Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon.

The committee is expected to meet today to deliberate and come to an agreement. The legislature hopes to pass a budget that can be signed into law by the Governor by July 1, 2009.

State Budget: Senate Version

On Wednesday, June 17th, the Senate passed their version of the Wisconsin state budget with a vote of 17-16. The Senate budget makes two important early education funding changes to the Joint Finance Committee’s recommended budget. Neither of these changes were present in the Assembly budget. First, the Senate version allocates an additional $3,000,000 in 2010-2011 for 4-year-old Kindergarten start-up grants. Second, it limits the total number of hours a child can receive child care under Wisconsin Shares to 12 hours per day. Some exceptions can be made- with proper documentation- to extend this limit up to 16 hours per day.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau put together a helpful summary that compares the Senate and Assembly versions of the budget. You can read the document here. Once a committee is formed, leaders from the Senate and Assembly will be meeting to iron out differences in the two budget versions. The legislature hopes to pass a budget that can be signed into law by the Governor by July 1, 2009.

Jalen Knox-Perkins Day Care Van Alarm Bill Signed into Law

Last Friday, May 29th, 2009, Governor Doyle signed the Jalen Knox-Perkins bill into law at Penfield Children’s Center in Milwaukee. The bill has been re-named after the 4-month-old child who recently died after being left alone for several hours inside a child care transportation van. The family of Jalen Knox-Perkins accompanied Doyle for the signing.

This bill mandates that a child safety alarm be placed in the rear of certain child care vehicles. This requires a driver to physically move to the back, while checking to make sure all children have exited, to disarm the device. Also on Friday, the Joint Finance Committee passed a provision that deletes the original grace period given to providers to install safety alarms. Alarms must now be installed by August 1, 2009 or the day after budget is signed- whichever is later. You can read the full text of the bill here.

The alarms have been estimated to cost between $200 and $350 with installation. Providers who do not comply with the law can be charged with a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail. An amendment to the bill, offered by Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), allows for a maximum $10,000 fine and up to three and half years in jail to anyone who turns off an alarm without first checking the vehicle for children.