“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.

Waiver Process in Response to Child Care Criminal Background Check Law

Since it was enacted in November 2009, Act 76 (or the caregiver background check law), has been met with mixed reactions from the child care field in Wisconsin. The bill- created to increase safety and decrease fraud within child care programs- went 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. The bill was passed unanimously in both houses.

When the bill was originally drafted, the list of crimes that would result in a permanent ban from the field was small and included first/second degree reckless or intentional homicide, kidnapping, and armed burglary. During the legislative process, several amendments were approved and additional crimes now 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. As a result, some providers in the field are losing their licenses for nonviolent crimes that they committed many years ago (see article here). DCF has stated that, as of now, 31 licenses have been revoked or surrendered because of Act 76.

Representative Tamara Grigsby, one of the original co-sponsors of the bill, is currently in the process of creating waiver legislation that if passed would allow providers who are affected by Act 76 to apply for a waiver from DCF under certain circumstances (especially for financial related crimes that currently hold a permanent bar). There will hopefully be a public hearing on this legislation by the end of March. Click here to watch Representative Grigsby discuss this issue on Wisconsin Public Television’s Here and Now series. Keep checking our blog for updates on this waiver bill.

Wisconsin’s Quality Rating and Improvement System is Closer than Ever

A Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) is poised to become a reality in Wisconsin- and it will be going to legislature for approval soon. WECA believes Wisconsin’s QRIS 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.

If you are an early childhood educator, your program will be assessed on quality indicators in four key areas: 1) educational qualifications of teaching and administrative staff, 2) the learning environment and curriculum, 3) professional practices, and 4) the health and well-being of all the children you serve.

QRIS is a national trend and one that will likely happen here sooner or later. Assessment of states which already have a QRIS affirm what we already know: Quality matters! The quality of care children receive has a huge and proven impact on their development and school-readiness.

YOU can take a stand for quality by contacting your legislators in support of a QRIS in Wisconsin! This is an opportunity to put the early education profession in its proper light, with the real story of its importance. The field is NOT all about fraud, nor is it about “babysitting” kids for money. Early education professionals are in fact key to effective, high quality programs for Wisconsin’s young children. Please contact members (especially co-chairs Senator Miller and Representative Pocan) of the Joint Finance Committee – the first group of legislators to act on the QRIS proposal – and share the following message:

Take a Stand for Quality Child Care. Support a Quality Rating and Improvement System that:
• puts money into program improvements,
• provides child care providers with higher payments for higher quality, and
• builds on existing programs and services that already help improve quality.

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.

Free Public Forum in Milwaukee: Child Care Fraud Issues

Tomorrow, Thursday November 12th at noon, the 4th Street Forum will be a hosting a live discussion on fraud within the Wisconsin Shares subsidy program and the impact on children. “But What About the Kids? Wisconsin’s Day Care Scandals,” is free, open to the public, and will air on television on Friday November 13th at 10 pm and Sunday November 15th at 9 am on Channel 10.1, Milwaukee Public Television. The forum will feature DCF Secretary Reggie Bicha, Educare Center director Carol Howard, director of Early Childhood Education for Milwaukee Public Schools Ann Terrell, and MATC professor Douglas Udell. If you can’t attend the discussion, or don’t have access to Milwaukee Public Television, the forum will be available at www.mptv.org on Monday November 16th.

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.

DCF Secretary Testifies before Legislators in Response to Fraud

On Tuesday September 29, Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary, Reggie Bicha, appeared before the Joint Finance Committee to discuss fraud within the Wisconsin Shares child-care subsidy program. Before fielding questions from legislators, Secretary Bicha discussed the steps his department has taken, and will be taking, to stop and prevent fraud. Read his testimony here. Despite criticism, the department indicates it has made great strides in stopping fraud since it was created 14 months ago. Here’s just a glimpse of what is currently being done:

-DCF has revoked more than 100 child care licenses in the past year. This number is more than double last year’s number.
-Because of recent legislative changes supported by DCF, they can now suspend Shares payments to any provider that they reasonably suspect is committing fraud. In the two weeks that DCF has had this ability, 69 providers have had their Shares payments suspended. See the complete list, and updated suspensions, here.
-DCF has hired a 5 person Fraud Detection and Investigation Unit to focus statewide on fraud.
-DCF has contracted with a private investigation firm-one that specializes in public assistance fraud.
-A Shares fraud hotline has been created (1.877.302.FRAUD). You can also report suspected fraud online, via email, or through the mail.
-DCF has created a system that detects suspicious behavior that could indicate fraud by providers.
-The department is working with legislators to create and pass laws that prevent fraud and hold providers accountable for their actions.

While investigating, DCF has found that 95% of suspected fraud cases are in Milwaukee County and that Milwaukee County officials did not spend all of the money allocated to them to run the Shares program. Many have argued that this money could have been used for more fraud oversight and investigations (Read Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s response here). Therefore, in addition to the efforts listed above, several efforts will be focused only on Milwaukee County. The State will be taking over Milwaukee County’s child care administration and program integrity efforts beginning January 1, 2010. The Child Care Anti-Fraud task force- composed of partners like the DCF, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. attorney’s office- will start their efforts in Milwaukee County (read more here). DCF is also adding ten new licensors to the Southern Region, who will have smaller case loads and will focus on monitoring providers with licensing violations.

For WECA’s response to fraud in the Wisconsin Shares program, read our op-ed here. We want to know what your response is as well. Leave a comment below to share your opinion.