4K Grants to be Debated by the Joint Finance Committee

In tomorrow’s executive session, the Joint Finance Committee will be discussing several public instruction grants, including 4-year-old Kindergarten grants. In his proposed budget, Governor Doyle included an additional $1 million each year for 4K grants. These grants were first offered to school districts in 2008-2009. During this year, Wisconsin saw the largest annual increase in enrollment and in the number of participating districts, since data began being collected during the 2001-2002 school year. Approximately 34,000 children participated in 4K programs offered in 319 districts during the 2008-2009 school year. You can read more about 4K grants and the options that the Joint Finance Committee has to consider here.

Almost 90 of the 319 Wisconsin 4K programs use a fairly new concept to provide service. Those programs partner with child care, Head Start, or preschool programs to provide 4K through a community approach. This method has grown immensely as just 3 districts in the 2001-02 school year used a community approach. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction administers the grant program and gives preference to districts that intend to use community approaches to provide 4K services (read more here).

The session is scheduled to begin at 11am tomorrow, May 5th, at the Capitol. The meeting will be held in Rm 412 East. Follow the new Wisconsin budget blog for up to the minute happenings at each Joint Finance Committee executive session!

Child Care Vehicle Safety Alarm Bill Passes Through the Senate and Assembly

On Tuesday, AB176/SB141 passed unanimously through the Assembly and was approved by a voice vote in the Senate. The bill, re-named the Jalen Knox-Perkins bill after the 4-month-old child who recently died after being left alone for several hours inside a child care transportation van, will next go to the Governor who is expected to sign it into law. Tuesday also brought a report of a 3-year-old boy being left on a child care bus in Milwaukee. Read the report here.

This bill would mandate that a child safety alarm be placed in the rear of certain child care vehicles. This would require the driver to physically move to the back, while checking to make sure all children have exited, to disarm the device. If passed, current providers will have a 3 month grace period to comply with the new law. 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.

The Department of Children and Families, Reid’s Child Care Academy, Penfield Children’s Center, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and the City of Milwaukee Health Department have all voiced their support for the bill. An opinion article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today, however, cautions against believing that this bill will prevent all future transportation errors. You can read that article here.

What’s in the State Budget?

Viewing Governor Doyle’s state budget can be an overwhelming and confusing experience. It can be difficult to figure out where (and how much) money is being spent and what regulations are being changed. This is why the Legislative Fiscal Bureau steps in. The LFB provides a readable, understandable version of the budget that summarizes key information for each state department. This summary is now available online to view here.

So what exactly is in the budget for the Department of Children and Families? Here are some key findings:

• The Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program will be funded at $375,736,400 per year in fiscal years 2010 and 2011
• Several cost containment measures are proposed to reduce spending in the Wisconsin Shares program. This includes increasing copayments for parents, freezing child care provider reimbursement rates, implementing a waiting list for recipients, including child support payments when determining income eligibility for the program, and distributing reimbursements to providers based on attendance
• In reaction to fraudulent behavior in the Wisconsin Shares program, the Governor has proposed several initiatives including using an electronic swipe card system to monitor attendance and the creation of a 5 person integrity unit to monitor/investigate fraud
• $1,018,400 in fiscal year 2010 and $1,727,300 in fiscal year 2011 will be allocated to establish a Quality Rating System
• At least $3,457,000 will be provided annually for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® WISCONSIN scholarship program and the R.E.W.A.R.D.™ WISCONSIN stipend program (neither an increase nor a decrease in funding from the 2007-2009 budget)
• There is an increase in licensing fees from $10.33 per child to $16.94 per child (for group centers that provide care for nine or more children). All other licensing fees remain the same

To view the complete summary of the Department of Children and Families 2009-2011 budget click here.

Wisconsin Early Learning Coalition: Top 10 Ways to Increase Funding for Early Care and Education

As we posted earlier this month, the time has come for the 2009-2011 Wisconsin state budget to be reviewed and revised by the Joint Finance Committee. Do you want to advocate for early care and education funding to be increased in the budget? Here are 10 creative ways to do so:

1. Write a letter to your state legislators: Share your personal story and your commitment to providing the very best care and education to our state’s children. You can find out who represents you and how to reach them here.

2. Join the Early Learning Coalition and the Great Start Campaign. Visit : www.greatstartwi.org

3. Invite your legislators to visit your program. Take a picture of them with the children and send a copy along with a thank you.

4. Add your elected officials to your newsletter mailing list. Let them learn about all the great things you do everyday.

5. Get to know the staff to your legislators. Let them know you can serve as a local resource on quality early care and education.

6. Speak out to friends, colleagues, family, and others about the benefits of high quality early care and education.

7. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in response to a child care story.

8. Participate in the “Picture Wisconsin’s Future” postcard campaign. We have postcards for parents and staff to fill out. Children personalize the postcards for parents with drawings of what they want to be someday. Programs can also submit photos for the “Picture Wisconsin’s Future” display in the rotunda of the State Capitol. Detailed information on these projects can be found here.

9. Provide on-going parent education to discuss what quality child care is and the importance of well-educated and supported staff.

10. Create opportunities for parents to act: make calls, write letters, give testimony… and invite them to join the Early Learning Coalition Great Start Campaign well.

*The Early Learning Coalition is a broad-based and diverse coalition representing child care and early education, Head Start and Early Head Start, programs serving children with disabilities and special needs, and public schools. WECA is among the statewide organizations represented on a Leadership Council and an active participant in Coalition activity.

Hearings, Hearings Everywhere

Governor Doyle has proposed his state budget and it is now being reviewed by the Joint Finance Committee. In order to make sure that all of Wisconsin’s young children get a “Great Start,” we need YOU to help us send a message to the Joint Finance members letting them know how important high-quality early childhood education is.

The committee will be holding public hearings in 7 areas across the state. If you live in or near one of these sites, please consider attending. You can comment on the state budget by signing in support for adequate early education funding, giving a 3 minute (or less) testimonial/speech, or providing written comments to the committee. For those willing to speak, there will be a WECA staff person at each event to provide support. Also, if you’re planning to speak or provide written comments, we can send you some information to include and some general information about the hearings themselves.

Here are the hearing dates and locations. All are held from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, with the exception of March 28 in Ashland:

• Monday, March 23: Sparta. American Legion Hall, 1116 Angelo Road.
• Wed, March 25: West Allis. State Fair Park, Banquet Rm 2, 640 S 84th St.
• Fri, March 27: Eau Claire. UW-Eau Claire Haas Fine Arts Center, 121 Water St.
• Saturday, March 28: Ashland. Ashland High School Auditorium at 9:00.
• Monday, March 30. Racine. Case High School Theater. 7345 Washington Ave.
• Wed, April 1. Appleton. Lawrence University Stansbury Theater, Music Drama Center 420 E College Ave.
• Fri, April 3. Cambridge. Amundson Community Center, 200 Spring St.

Response to the Governor’s 2009-2011 Budget

Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA) shares the vision held by Governor Doyle and the Department of Children and Families that all Wisconsin children and their families have access to high quality child care and early learning experiences.

A quality rating system, as proposed by Governor Doyle, is a welcomed opportunity to begin the challenging work of improving the system of child care currently available in our state. WECA believes we should first look at existing programs and initiatives in our state that successfully enhance child care program quality and then build upon them. Among these programs are two evidenced based, quality initiatives that are currently funded through the state budget and administered by WECA. T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® WISCONSIN and R.E.W.A.R.D. ™ WISCONSIN improve educational qualifications and help retain a skilled child care workforce. Because of the success of these programs, the demand for them- along with much needed training and technical assistance to advance a quality agenda- is greater than current funding allows.

WECA also appreciates the Governor’s efforts to sustain the Wisconsin Shares program. We believe that continued and adequate funding for these subsidies is critical to the lives of thousands of Wisconsin children and families, especially as our economy worsens and families struggle. We are, however, concerned that proposed cost containment measures will unduly fall on the shoulders of the child care workforce and early education programs. This could undermine concerted efforts to improve quality.

We look forward to working with the legislature and the Doyle administration through these budget deliberations to move us closer to our shared vision.

Child Care Initiatives in Wisconsin 2009 Budget Adjustment

We commend Governor Doyle and legislative leaders for including investments in early childhood initiatives in a proposed economic stimulus and budget repair package revealed on February 11, 2009.

The bill allocates $20 million for state child care subsidies in response to a projected shortfall. WECA believes that continued and adequate funding for these subsidies is critical to the lives of thousands of Wisconsin children and families, especially as our economy worsens and families face more challenges.

The bill also includes specific plans to address the recent fraud and abuse findings in the Wisconsin Shares program. It will create an automated tracking system to monitor child care attendance and a program integrity unit to monitor all aspects of the program and investigate allegations of program abuse. WECA supports quickly addressing these issues. According to WECA executive director, Ruth Schmidt, “It is imperative that the taxpayer money that funds this program is used effectively so that is reaches Wisconsin families who need it the most.”

The proposed economic stimulus and budget repair package is a preliminary action designed to stimulate Wisconsin’s economy. The package in its entirety is said to reduce the current state budget shortfall by $700 million dollars by the end of the 2009-2011 biennium. WECA encourages legislators to quickly evaluate and pass these important initiatives.