Childcare Providers Assert They Have the Resources to Assist in Teaching 4-Year-Old Kindergarten

A Senate hearing on Tuesday received a mixed response to legislation that would require collaboration between school districts with 4-year-old kindergarten and community child care providers.

Child care providers who testified showed their support for the proposal, AB-1035 / SB-973. This particular bill is unique among the 10 child care bills introduced by Republicans in this session, as it has garnered broad support from professionals in the child care field.

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCF), which oversees licensed child care providers in Wisconsin, spoke favorably about the proposal’s objective but raised questions about some of its details. Deputy Secretary Jeff Pertl clarified that the DCF testimony was informational and not an endorsement or opposition to the bill.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI), which promotes the inclusion of child care providers in 4K programs on its website, testified against the legislation. Tom McCarthy, DPI’s deputy state superintendent, expressed support for using a community approach to expand child care opportunities but pointed out issues with the bill as currently written.

The legislation, introduced in January, aims to support child care providers by reintroducing 4-year-olds into their programs. Many providers lost these children when school districts started offering 4K kindergarten programs.

Caring for the 4 to 5 age group is more cost-effective for child care providers. State regulations require one teacher for up to 13 children in this age range. Younger children have lower ratios, with the lowest ratio being one teacher for every four children under the age of 2.

Pertl testified that Wisconsin school districts began expanding their 4K offerings in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Tuesday, and an Assembly hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Wisconsin currently allows schools to partner with licensed child care providers for their 4K programs, known as “mixed delivery” or 4K community collaboration. However, this collaboration has decreased significantly as more school districts take on their own programs.

Pertl mentioned that around 25% of Wisconsin school districts offering 4K are currently collaborating with child care providers.

Rep. Karen Hurd (R-Fall Creek) highlighted the concerns raised by providers regarding the loss of 4K children. She emphasized that the child care industry has been negatively affected by this shift.

Priya Bhatia, DCF’s early care and education division administrator, stated that providers were left with a more expensive mix of younger children to serve. Bhatia explained that the legislation would bring stability and continuity of care for the children and families affected.

The legislation would mandate school districts offering 4K kindergarten to contract with local child care providers to provide additional classes alongside the district’s own 4K program.

Including more child care centers as 4K providers for public schools would also benefit parents who require wraparound care, which involves child care before and after the kindergarten classes.

Bhatia highlighted the disruptions caused to children and families when they have to travel between a school’s part-day 4K program and a child care provider. The community approach ensures a more seamless educational experience in a single location, reducing these disruptions and leveraging parents’ familiarity and trust with the child care provider.

Bhatia identified three primary concerns that could improve the success of 4K community collaboration:

1. Counting 4K children as full-time students for state school financing calculations instead of one-half, as it currently stands.

2. Establishing a payment formula that satisfies both school districts and child care providers involved in the contract. The bill proposes that districts pay at least 95% of the per-pupil funding for 4K students to the providers, retaining up to 5% for administrative costs. Bhatia suggested that the district and child care provider should work together to determine the appropriate balance.

3. Ensuring uniform licensing standards specifically focused on 4K teachers. Child care providers have expressed concerns regarding DPI’s licensing standards, which they believe are more suitable for early and elementary education rather than 4K.

The bill mandates child care workers teaching in 4K programs to have at least an associate degree or be enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program with a four-year timeline.

Opponents of the legislation have pointed out the differences in licensing standards between teachers in school district 4K programs and those in child care centers.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) contested the removal of professional standards for teachers in the bill. Rep. Joy Goeben (R-Hobart), the Assembly author of the bill, emphasized the educational requirements for child care workers and assured that the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) would oversee these standards.

Sen. Romaine Quinn (R-Cameron) supported Goeben’s response, noting that child care providers already take care of these children.

Larson insisted on the distinction between child care and school, emphasizing that teachers are professionals who hold degrees.

Goeben, a former child care provider, defended early child care providers as professionals who specialize in educating young children. She found it demeaning to imply that they would be less effective in their field of expertise.

McCarthy from DPI raised concerns regarding the increased focus on early literacy and reading in recently enacted legislation. He questioned how contracted child care providers would handle children with disabilities or special needs.

Corrine Hendrickson, a child care provider and organizer of an advocacy and support network, highlighted the track record of child care providers involved in community collaboration in helping children with special needs. She stated that collaboration facilitates communication between child care programs and schools, identifying and providing necessary support for children with special needs.

Hendrickson also noted that the legislation aligns with federal funding changes that support mixed delivery, which other states have already implemented to ensure access to high-quality preschool while benefiting working parents.

Joan Beck, a child care administrator, expressed her center’s support for the legislation. She mentioned that her center had enrolled 4-year-olds who later joined a 4K program in the community. Beck emphasized the partnership between child care providers and parents in supporting children’s early education and development.

Beck also commended DCF’s oversight for contributing to the quality of her child care program, suggesting that the collaboration should be seen as partnering with public schools rather than taking children away from them.

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