FOX 11 Investigates: Proposal to expand early childhood programs

    FOX 11 Investigates examines possible expansion of early childhood education. (WLUK)<p>{/p}

    (WLUK) -- If a proposal being discussed in Madison goes through, some child care administrators say it could be harder for parents to find day care.

    Under the plan, 4K programs could be expanding and going younger.

    "What's best for our kids is best for our state," Gov. Tony Evers said during his first State of the State address.

    Evers used the speech to highlight education, including plans to increase funding for things like special education, mental health programs and early childhood.

    "My urban initiative programs will also empower minority students in our state's highest need districts by expanding early childhood education," Evers said.

    While Evers first budget won't be released until next month, the budget request he put together last fall while he was still State Superintendent, has more details.

    Click here to read the full budget request for the Department of Public Instruction

    Evers proposed an expansion of 4K programs in to full day instead of the current half day. He also proposed spending $5 million on a new grant program to add three-year-old kindergarten in the state's five largest school districts. That would include Green Bay.

    Both would happen in 2021.

    "The investment we make in our kids today will yield dividends for generations," Evers said.

    "We haven't talked about it yet," said Mary McCabe, director of pre-school programs for the Green Bay Area Public School District.

    McCabe says she likes the concept of expanding early childhood programs but says a lot of work would need to be done before it could happen.

    "I think it's wonderful. The earlier we can get children in school and learning, the better that will be," McCabe said.

    Schools districts would see an increase in funding under the plan. Current 4K students are counted as half time students. That would change to full-time if the programs switched to all day.

    The proposals are a long way from happening, but some child care providers aren't excited about the possibility.

    "If we want them to be successful in school we have to start them out right. This is a gentler transition," said Laura Peszko from Shining Stars Childcare and Education Center.

    The child care center has 16 children in its 4K class. The class is run in partnership with several local school districts. She says not all child centers have that option.

    "We contract with several school districts and they pay us a stipend per child to run our four-year-old classrooms. There are some districts that take all of the students right into the public schools," Peszko said.

    Case in point, Willows Christian Child Care center in Dodge County.

    "What I provide is wrap around care," said administrator Joan Beck. She told FOX 11 Investigates that if full day 4K happens, it will have a major impact on her business.

    "If they're in school, full day, four days, I will lose all of that income from the wrap around care," Beck said.

    Even though 3K would start as a pilot program in just five districts, providers are concerned it would take off.

    "Once it's accepted in the major school districts, it's going to often run through the whole state," Beck said. She added that the changes would not only impact child care providers but families as well.

    "The ripple effect, obviously, if I close down, we're going to have a lot of parents without care and our whole community will no longer have care. I'm not going to say how many programs in the state of Wisconsin will close down but I'm sure it will have a devastating effect on a lot of us if this happens," Beck said.

    Beck is also the president of the Wisconsin Child Care Administrators Association.

    In an effort to raise awareness of the issues, the group released a letter saying child care centers could see a "...40% reduction in revenue..." if programs for three and four-year-olds expand.

    Click here to read the full letter from the Wisconsin Child Care Administrators Association

    The group says day care costs to families for infants and toddlers could "...double or triple..."

    "My community will lose a child care program, the only child care program within 10 miles," Beck said.

    Some communities already have full-day 4K and half day 3K programs.

    "The earlier the better is our motto and I think it's a great idea," said Sally Jansen, director of Head Start in Green Bay. Head Start is a federally-funded program has served low income families in the area for 50 years.

    The program added full day 4K in 2017 and Jansen says it has taken off.

    "The interest in our families is great. Everybody wants full day services," Jansen said.

    She also says any expansion of early childhood education should be done in partnership with child care centers.

    "I think that the community piece is so important and we work together, those of us in early childhood throughout Brown County on various committees with the same goal in mind that we want the best for all children," Jansen said.

    McCabe says child care centers in Green Bay play a vital role.

    "I think that there is a need and maybe we could fill a need for the families who don't qualify for head start but the tuition piece is difficult for them. I would imagine that we would look at community sites to help us with that program," McCabe told FOX 11 Investigates.

    "I think in theory, it's a great concept," Beck said.

    For child care administrators, the concern may be real. but Joan Beck is hoping for change.

    "It just needs to be a better collaboration," she said.

    When the budget is introduced in a few weeks, the governor's office says we can expect the education portion to be very similar to the budget proposal released last fall.

    FOX 11 Investigates reached out to the State Department of Public Instruction for comment on the proposals and the potential impact, but we are still waiting to hear back.

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