Wisconsin Child Care Providers Warn Loss Of Funding Could Force Centers To Close

Wisconsin Child Care Providers Warn Loss of Funding Could Force Centers to Close

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Mykenzie Ritschard, a resident of New Glarus, had not initially planned to speak at the rally held on Tuesday in support of funding for Child Care Counts. This funding was unexpectedly eliminated by the Joint Finance Committee, with no explanation provided. However, when Corrine Hendrickson, the organizer and child care provider, opened the opportunity for anyone to speak, Ritschard mustered the strength to share her story, despite the tears and sobs.

Ritschard’s oldest child, who has autism, faced difficulties in finding suitable child care. Eventually, Ritschard made the difficult decision to leave her "dream job" at a dentist’s office in order to work at The Growing Tree, a child care center in New Glarus owned and operated by Brooke Skidmore, a passionate advocate for child care.

Skidmore eagerly accepted Ritschard’s offer to work at the center because they were understaffed. In addition, when Ritschard’s son was diagnosed with autism, Skidmore allowed his therapists to provide therapy within the center, an uncommon practice in most child care centers.

According to Ritschard, they have witnessed significant progress in her son’s development thanks to the opportunities provided by The Growing Tree. Their situation would have been entirely different without this support.

During the rally on Tuesday, both Ritschard and several other child care providers, including Hendrickson and Skidmore, voiced their concerns regarding the detrimental effects of cutting funding for Child Care Counts in the budget. They highlighted the impact on themselves, their students, and the overall economy. Families are being forced to make challenging decisions due to a shortage of available spots and the rising costs.

Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) addressed the rally, emphasizing the misguided nature of this decision. She stated that it is the responsibility of policymakers to design and implement programs that bridge the gaps in essential services within Wisconsin. Neubauer condemned the GOP’s decision to gut the program, describing it as cynical, shortsighted, and detrimental to the state.

Although Gov. Tony Evers had allocated $340 million for Child Care Counts in the budget, many providers argued that this amount was insufficient. Between January 1st and the date of the rally, a total of 166 child care centers had been forced to close, as reported by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Without financial support, providers warned that they may have to increase rates to $50 per child per week, placing families in difficult situations. Furthermore, a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum revealed that year-round child care is more expensive than in-state tuition at any University of Wisconsin school.

Vince Williams, the policy advisor for State Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, responded to Hendrickson’s concerns via email. Williams explained that Child Care Counts was intended to offer short-term relief and was initially funded with federal COVID relief money. He noted that this funding is not ongoing and will end this year. Williams also mentioned other child care programs that received allocations, including the Wisconsin Shares program, Quality Care for Quality Kids, REWARD stipends, and a new revolving loan fund for start-up child care centers.

Recently, the Joint Finance Committee approved an increase in the household income ceiling for accessing the Wisconsin Shares program from 185% to 200% of the federal poverty level, making it more accessible to low-income individuals in Wisconsin. Additionally, the budget motion aims to alleviate the reduction of benefits when a household’s income exceeds the ceiling, thereby reducing the "benefits cliff."

Nonetheless, the report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum cautioned that cutting funding for Child Care Counts without establishing new funding sources could recreate or worsen the challenges faced by the child care industry, families, and the overall economy.

"We fell silent… The women in the room who worked in child care became extremely upset," Scott recounted to the Examiner. "If this is the topic of discussion at the federal level, I can only imagine what the Republican Party is talking about here in our Capitol."

Based on his own personal experience, Scott emphasized that this could have significant implications for the current labor shortage and entrepreneurialism.

"Currently, we are grappling with the dilemma of individuals having to choose between working and devoting 40 to 60% of their income to childcare, just so they can maintain a job. Alternatively, they could stay at home and figure things out. However, for households with only one source of income, this is not even a viable option," Scott explained. "Unfortunately, I have many friends who are entrepreneurs, and due to the necessity of having one parent stay at home, they face tremendous challenges."

"If we fail to address this problem and allocate sufficient funds to support the children in our state, we will lag behind economically," Scott warned.

Aside from the consequences of cutting funding for Child Care Counts, Nicky Krause from New Glarus raised concerns about the impact it had on democracy in Wisconsin. During the proceedings, despite being questioned by state Senator Kelda Roys (D-Madison), none of the Republicans who voted to remove the funding provided an explanation.

"We have a situation where this initiative has garnered 80% popular support. To me, this suggests that it is not a partisan issue. However, the lawmakers did not see fit to justify their reasons," Krause expressed. "Without any explanations, finding common ground and reconciliation becomes impossible. It is distressing. Democracy cannot function without this basic reciprocity, and I see none of it here."

Hendrickson received a response from Marklein’s office almost immediately following the rally. The only explanation given was that the initial funding came from the federal government. Advocates argue that in a state with a budget surplus of $7 billion, this explanation is incomplete.

While none of the state’s major business interest groups or right-wing think tanks have explicitly shown support for the decision, Rachel Ver Velde, senior director of Workforce, Education, and Employment Policy at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, testified at a state Senate committee meeting, stating that WMC favors "tax credits for employers to establish childcare options for their employees or purchase slots for their employees."

"We believe that many employers view this as a crucial aspect and want to assist their employees by providing these resources," Ver Velde asserted. "If there were tax credits tied to this, their incentive to do so would be even higher."

Hendrickson, in response to Ver Velde’s comment via email, questioned why other businesses should receive tax credits instead of direct state funding for childcare providers. She argued that tying childcare to employers would limit access.

"What happens when a business closes or lays off employees, and the parents can no longer access childcare to pursue employment?" Hendrickson inquired. "How can small businesses, such as those in retail, bars, and restaurants, compete with larger corporations? This is yet another way for big businesses to hold a monopoly over industries."

Hendrickson further argued that tax credits would not necessarily result in higher wages for childcare workers, which is essential for retaining staff at these centers. According to a report by WPF, lead early childhood educators earn an average of $24,981 per year, amounting to $12 per hour assuming a forty-hour workweek.

Lani Harrison, a former employee of The Growing Tree in New Glarus, also spoke at the podium on Tuesday to explain why these wages were unsustainable.

"I loved my job," Harrison shared. "I enjoyed the challenges. Every day was a new adventure with the amazing and curious minds of children."

However, even with a Bachelor’s degree, Harrison’s family lived paycheck-to-paycheck without access to health insurance, dental insurance, vision care, retirement plans, or student loan forgiveness. She witnessed more than thirty-five of her colleagues leave the childcare field. Eventually, Harrison herself transitioned to become a special education teacher at a public school.

Wisconsin Examiner is affiliated with States Newsroom, a collection of news offices funded by grants and a group of generous donors operating as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains its editorial freedom. If you have any inquiries, reach out to Editor Ruth Conniff at info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Keep updated with Wisconsin Examiner by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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