Wisconsin Budget: A Mixed Bag for Early Care and Education

Wisconsin’s 2013-2015 biennial budget made some headway in some early childhood areas, but missed opportunities in other key areas.

The budget ended a seven-year freeze on child care subsidy payment rates, setting policies that are expected to add $6 million to child care payment rates over the two years.  The budget also increased tiered reimbursements for high-quality programs in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Quality Rating System, by approving 10% higher payments for 4-Star-rated programs, doubling the fiscal incentive. Wisconsin’s Early Learning Coalition made a strong case for strengthening YoungStar and increasing the Wisconsin Shares subsidy payment rates during the budget deliberations.

Wisconsin also took the opportunity to invest $35 million of federal grant funds from the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge programs to strengthen YoungStar, establish an early childhood longitudinal data system, improve professional development, and improve family engagement and support.

At the same time, however, the Legislature reduced the budget for the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program by $35 million, repurposing the state funds for other programs, and continuing a troubling trend of reductions. Over the past four years, these annual reductions by the Legislature have decreased the subsidy budget by $100 million, serving 10,000 fewer children.

While public school funding has also declined significantly over the last two years, access to free, universal four-year-old kindergarten (4K) continues to expand, with 4K available in 93% of school districts serving 48,590 children, ranking Wisconsin near the top in the nation in access to preschool education for four-year-olds.

In a recent show of bipartisanship, the Legislature overwhelming passed a joint resolution that the Legislature will take into account the principles of early childhood brain development in their deliberations, and note the role of early intervention and investment in early years as important strategies.

Dave Edie, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (April 14, 2014)