Partnership for Wisconsin’s Economic Success urges policymakers to repair Wisconsin Shares funding

The Partnership for Wisconsin’s Economic Success (PWES) recently urged Wisconsin policymakers to repair the declining funding in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program by significantly increasing the payment rates.

In a letter sent to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance, PWES writes, “We are concerned that the decrease of Wisconsin Shares payments has made it difficult for child care providers to maintain and improve the quality of their programs and impedes their efforts to move up the YoungStar quality scale. Declining Wisconsin Shares payment rates are undermining the very goals of YoungStar.”

Given that the Wisconsin Shares rates have been frozen for seven years, PWES believes that, “Shifting $35 million of federal funds intended to help low-income children and families to other purposes may seem prudent in the middle of current budget deliberations, but it seems a poor choice when that money could be helping our most vulnerable children learn and progress.”

To read PWES’s full letter sent to the Joint Committee on Finance, click here.

About PWES:

PWES was formed in 2008 and is the first state chapter of the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, now named Ready Nation. PWES is a network of business and non-profit leaders interested in the development of young children, both for their individual benefit and for the long-term economic development of the State of Wisconsin.

WECA’s Ruth Schmidt in Cap Times: “Raise WI Shares payments”

The Capital Times ran a letter to the editor this weekend from WECA Executive Director, Ruth Schmidt, in response to the “Give all 4-year-olds a chance” Op-Ed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

In the letter, Schmidt also responded to State Senator Julie Lassa’s recent statement on Wisconsin Shares payments, “The problem we see, and that she [Sen. Lassa] echoes, is that child care providers receiving Shares payments are being financially penalized as they work to grow their program’s quality rating through Youngstar. We believe raising the Shares rate by 7 percent is a smart move with long-term benefits.”

Click here to read the full letter.

What do you think? Is raising the Wisconsin Shares rate by 7% a good move for child care? Leave us your comments below…

YoungStar Applications due in Three Weeks!

If you are a child care program that currently receives reimbursements through the Wisconsin Shares program, you must apply to participate in YoungStar BY JUNE 1ST, 2011 in order to continue to receive these reimbursements without interruption. Your regional office must receive the application by this date, so don’t forget to leave time for mail processing if you choose to mail your application in.

How do I apply?
DCF has just revised their YoungStar website with simple, easy to follow instructions on applying for YoungStar. Find the four step application process here!

What can I do after I apply?
If you chose to have someone come out to rate your program, you will be assigned a YoungStar adviser who will contact you in the future to set up an appointment. While you wait for this initial contact, there are several things you can do to prepare:

Step 1: Consider attending a YoungStar orientation training
If you are just learning about YoungStar, and want to know more, attend a YoungStar orientation session to find out details on ratings, support for programs, and micro-grants. Find training in your area!

Step 2: Get your information on The Registry
In order to earn 3 or more stars in YoungStar, your program must meet certain education levels (what education levels do I need for each level?). This education is ONLY verified through The Registry- so if your program isn’t on The Registry, we won’t be able to check this information.
* Actions for Group Child Care: Ensure that all Lead Teachers and the Center Director qualifications are current and accurately reflected by The Registry Career Level assigned. See instructions for individuals to do this below.
* Actions for Family Child Care: Ensure that the primary caregiver qualifications are current and accurately reflected by The Registry Career Level assigned. If the owner is not the primary caregiver/teacher, then the qualifications of the primary caregiver/teacher are evaluated for purposes of YoungStar. See instructions for individuals to do this below.
* Actions for Administrators/Owners of Group and Family Child Care Programs: Create or update a Registry Program Profile within The Registry. Learn how to do this with instructions below.
* Instructions for individuals to get started in The Registry and receive a Registry Career Level.
* Instructions for creating a Registry program profile.

Step 3: Consider completing your own assessment of your program’s quality
In order to earn 3 or more stars in YoungStar, your program must complete a self-assessment.
* Your program can complete this assessment before a YoungStar staff member comes out to your program. This will give you the opportunity to point out what’s going well in your program already and what could be going better.
* Your program can also choose to complete a self-assessment with assistance from a YoungStar technical assistant.
* If you would like to complete or begin a self-assessment, we recommend you choose this tool for group programs and this tool for family programs.

Step 4: Consider creating a quality improvement plan for your program, highlighting where you think your program is doing well and where it needs improvement
In order to earn 3 or more stars in YoungStar, your program must complete a quality improvement plan, based on your self-assessment.
* Your program can complete this quality improvement plan before a YoungStar staff member comes out to your program. This will give you the opportunity to create your own plan for improving quality in your program.
* Your program can also choose to complete a quality improvement plan with a YoungStar technical assistant.
* If you would like to complete or begin a quality improvement plan without assistance from YoungStar staff, download an example to use.

Step 5: Familiarize yourself with the tools YoungStar staff will be using
Learn about what YoungStar staff will be using when they rate your program.
* Information for Group child care programs.
* Information for Family child care programs.

“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.

Milwaukee Child Care Summit Announced

The Unity Caucus and Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) recently announced a child care summit in part to address concerns that the child care community has raised in response to changes in background checks, Wisconsin Shares, and quality ratings. According to a press release sent from Senator Taylor’s office:

“The summit will offer advice ranging from how to open a day care center to questions about receiving micro-loans. In addition, information about Wisconsin Act 76, the recent changes to the Wisconsin Shaves Program, will be shared and discussed…The event seeks to teach individuals the inner workings of an audit and what one must do during the procedure. Questions will also be answered about any possible issues or concerns one might have about child care centers and how to use the proposed YoungStar system.”

Experts will be available to answer questions and will include Secretary Reggie Bicha, Joyce Mallory (executive director of the Malaika Early Learning Center), a representative of Jo’s Daycare Academy, and attorney Felicia Miller Watson.

The summit will take place on Saturday February 27th between 9 am and 1 pm at the Greater New Birth Church, 2207 West Center Street. For more information, you can contact Senator Taylor at 608.266.5810.

Fingerprints and Child Care

Federal and Wisconsin state legislators are considering bills that would require fingerprint records to be used for a variety of reasons. The federal government is considering legislation that would require child care providers across the nation to have comprehensive criminal background checks, including FBI fingerprint checks. Bills seeking such background checks (h.r. 3287 and s.2903) were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in July and December 2009. The House bill was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee, WI) and the Senate bill was authored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). At present, criminal background check requirements for child care providers vary greatly across the nation. Only ten states require comprehensive background checks of providers like those mentioned in the bills. 30 states currently conduct a state fingerprint check (25 of these conduct both a federal and state fingerprint check)- Wisconsin is not one of them.

In Wisconsin, legislation was recently introduced that would require child care programs that receive Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy funding to track children’s attendance using fingerprinting technology. Co-authored by Representative Honadel and Senator Darling, these bills- SB 592 and AB 845– hope to curb fraud in the Wisconsin Shares system and ensure that accurate child care attendance is reported to the state. Programs would be required to implement a biometric fingerprint identification system by January 1, 2011 and would need to pay for the equipment (estimated at $400 or $500) themselves. The state would cover the cost of needed software.

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.

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 on Monday November 16th.

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.

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.