Legislators Pass New Child Care Reform Bill

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.

Early Learning Challenge Fund: Contact Your Senator

In September, the US House of Representatives passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221). This bill restructures student loan procedures, uses the savings to invest in other areas of education, and includes substantial investments in early childhood education through the Early Learning Challenge Fund. The fund will offer competitive grants to states to enhance the quality of early learning for children ages birth to five. You can read more about the fund and its purposes here. At present, the Senate is considering this legislation and needs to hear why the Early Learning Challenge Fund is important to early care and education across the nation.

YOU can take action:

Please call your US Senate representatives TODAY to tell them that you support the Early Learning Challenge Fund within the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. You can find out how to contact Senators Feingold and Kohl by clicking here and entering your mailing address.

Sample message to your Senators:

My name is ___ and I am one of your constituents. I fully support the Early Learning Challenge Fund provision within H.R.3221. This fund is a critical investment that will improve the quality of early education. Please support legislation that includes this fund.

Two More Steps in Wisconsin Shares Fraud Prevention

Last week, the Wisconsin legislature passed the Responsibility in Child Care Act (SB280/AB412). In the bill, if a child care provider 1) commits fraud within the Wisconsin Shares subsidy program, 2) is part of a corporation or limited liability company, and 3) is unable to pay back what they owe, then any person who holds 20 percent or more of ownership interest in the child care facility and who has control of/responsibility for the business may be personally liable.

Also last week, Racine and Kenosha Counties announced the creation of two new Anti-Fraud Task Forces dedicated to combating fraud within the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program. This development brings the total number of anti-fraud tasks forces to three (in September, the state created the first anti-fraud task force in Milwaukee county).

Both of these initiatives will deter fraud within the Wisconsin Shares program, help the state recoup taxpayer money that was distributed to fraudulent providers, and increase accountability. Wisconsin Shares was created to help low-income families pay for child care so that parents could work. By decreasing fraud, the program can move towards this original, and worthy, intent.

For additional measures that the state has taken in response to child care subsidy fraud, see our previous blog entry here.

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.

CACFP Reauthorization

This year, the US Congress has an opportunity to improve services to children through the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (H.R.2997). A well-drafted reauthorization bill that includes improved access to services, meal quality, and nutrition education can reduce childhood hunger and obesity, especially for children from low-income families. The reauthorization bill would include changes to nutrition programs for children in child care (the Child and Adult Care Food Program), in school, and at home (through the WIC Program). The contents of the bill are currently being discussed in the Agriculture Appropriations conference committee. Senator Kohl and Representative Obey from Wisconsin are part of the Appropriations Committee.

The Food Research and Action Center- in conjunction with members of the Child Nutrition Forum- have created a “Statement of Principles” in response. These principles provide Congress with guidelines as they reauthorize child nutrition programs. For the Child and Adult Care Food Program in particular, the statement urges Congress to expand eligibility guidelines to serve more low-income children, to increase reimbursement rates to providers to encourage participation, to allow providers to serve a third meal, and to provide training and technical assistance to participating programs. Click here to learn more or to sign in support of these principles.

Please contact Senator Herb Kohl and your other federal representatives TODAY if you support expanding child nutrition programs. You can find out how to contact your US Congressional Representatives by clicking here and entering your mailing address.

3 Early Ed Bills Advance

Early Learning Challenge Fund
Last Thursday, September 17, the US House of Representatives passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221) with a vote of 251 to 171. This bill restructures student loan procedures, uses the savings to invest in other areas of education, and includes substantial investments in early childhood education through the Early Learning Challenge Fund. The fund will offer competitive grants to states to enhance the quality of early learning for children ages birth to five. Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius have posted a response to the passage of the bill. You can read it here. A version of this bill is expected to be considered by the Senate soon.

Changes in Five-Year-Old Kindergarten Requirements
On Wednesday, September 16, the Wisconsin Assembly passed AB119- a bill that would change current mandates regarding enrollment in, and completion of, 5-year-old Kindergarten. Beginning in 2011-2012, completion of 5-year-old Kindergarten would be a prerequisite for entering first grade in any public or charter school. School districts would 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 would also call for regular attendance by 5-year-old Kindergarten students throughout the school year. On September 22, the bill was concurred in by the Senate with a vote of 17-15.

Changes in Child Care Fraud Liability
On Thursday, September 17, the Wisconsin committee on Children and Families and Workforce Development in the Senate unanimously passed SB280 out of their committee and on to the full Senate. In the bill, if a child care provider commits fraud within the Wisconsin Shares subsidy program, is part of a corporation or limited liability company, and is unable to pay back what they owe, then any person who holds 20 percent or more of ownership interest in the child care facility and who has control of/responsibility for the business may be personally liable. The Assembly Committee on Children and Families will hold a public hearing on the bill (AB412) on September 30, 2009 at 11:00 AM in Capitol room 400 Northeast.

Statewide Fraud Task Force Announced

Last Friday, September 11th, county and state officials announced the creation of the Child Care Anti-Fraud Task Force. Several organizations- including the Department of Children and Families, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. attorney’s office- will partner together in an effort to curb fraud in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program. According the Department of Children and Families, the task force will start its efforts in Milwaukee County, as 58 percent of Wisconsin Shares funding is allocated there.

The creation of a fraud task force comes after a series of stories in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiling cases of excessive fraud within the system. In one case, a Milwaukee couple- Willie and Pamela Kohlheim- has been indicted by a federal grand jury. The Kohlheims ran multiple day care centers in Milwaukee and may have fraudulently filed for bankruptcy. The pair is thought to have committed fraud in the Shares program as well. Read more about this story here.

Since its creation last year, the Department of Children and Families has taken aggressive steps in stopping fraud in the subsidy program. 98 providers have had their licenses revoked and a 5 person program integrity task force has been formed. The department is also working with legislators to create and pass laws that prevent fraud and hold providers accountable for their actions (The proposed Senate Bill 280 is one example).

TRY IT Tuesday: Contact your Federal Legislator about the Early Learning Challenge Fund

This week, the US House of Representatives is expected to discuss and vote on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (H.R.3221). This bill restructures student loan procedures and uses the savings to invest in other areas of education. This legislation includes substantial investments in early childhood education through an Early Learning Challenge Fund. The fund will offer competitive grants to states to enhance the quality of early learning for children ages birth to five. You can read more about the fund and its purposes here.

Are you ready to TRY IT? If you support this investment in early education, contact your representative TODAY to tell him or her that you support the Early Learning Challenge Fund. A sample message to your representative might include: “My name is ___ and I am one of your constituents. I fully support the Early Learning Challenge Fund provision within H.R.3221. This fund is a critical investment that will improve the quality of early education. Please support H.R.3221.” To find your legislator’s phone number- as well as some additional talking points from Zero to Three- click here and enter your zip code.

Did you TRY IT? Let us know what you said, how it went, why you decided to contact your legislator, etc.

Honoring the life of Senator Kennedy

This week, as we mourn with the nation and say goodbye to Senator Ted Kennedy, we remember his work as an advocate and champion for young children and early educators. Early in his career, Senator Kennedy was instrumental in implementing legislation that provided access to health, education, and nutrition services for low-income women, infants, and children. Through the years, he continued to work on expanding services to disadvantaged families and children with disabilities. He helped establish a child care program for the Department of Defense, was instrumental in creating and expanding the Head Start and Even Start programs, sponsored the Family and Medical Leave Act, and helped to enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Senator Kennedy continuously made efforts to inform other policy makers (and citizens) about the importance of high quality early care and education by placing an emphasis on access, workforce development, curriculum, resources, and standards. His commitment to this discussion is demonstrated in his own words: “The next great frontier of our commitment to reform should be early childhood education. The politics are complicated but the goal is simple. Every child should start school ready to learn (remarks made at the National Press Club, January 16, 2002).”

You can read more about Senator Ted Kennedy and his legislative history here.

TRY IT Tuesday: Legislative Visits

One of the best ways to understand what the term “high-quality early education” means is to see it first-hand. By hosting legislative visits in your child care program, you can give legislators an opportunity to do just that! Because your US representatives will be in recess throughout August, now is a great time to invite them to come and experience your early education program. During each visit, you can take some time to discuss the federal and state legislation that affects your work every day. When you build these relationships with your legislators, it will pay off in the future when you contact them to be supportive of (or opposed to) a particular bill or program.

Don’t think you could have a legislator visit you program? Brenda Wagner- a Director and Lead Teacher of the Discovery on Dousman child care center in Wauzeka, Wisconsin- TRIED IT and here’s what happened:

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Senator Dan Kapanke visits with children at Discovery on Dousman child care

Brenda started inviting legislators to visit her program several years ago to celebrate the Week of the Young Child (WOYC). She found legislative visits on a list of suggested WOYC activities and decided to give it a try. Brenda went online, found out who her legislators were, and sent them email invitations. She didn’t think they would respond – but they did, and the visits have become a yearly event. This year both Senator Dan Kapanke and Representative Lee Nerison visited.

At first Brenda was nervous about having legislators visit her program, but now she would advise others to “just relax and do it!” because it’s not as hard as it sounds. Her legislators have always been friendly, down to earth, and excited about visiting. They visited with staff members, got down to each child’s level, and participated in some activities. They asked questions about what a typical day was like, inquired about staff, and were always amazed at how well-behaved the children were! Brenda also used some of her time to discuss the R.E.W.A.R.D. ™ WISCONSIN stipend program and how she benefits from it.

Are you ready to TRY IT too? Find out who your legislators are by clicking here and entering your home address. Contact us if you would like assistance with scheduling a visit or download a “tool kit” from The Early Care and Education Consortium to use when preparing for a visit. If you TRY IT, leave a comment to let us know how it went- we would love to hear from you!