December 23, 2011

YoungStar

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

As a government of the people, we must meet our obligations and promises to our citizens. In 2009, under former Governor Jim Doyle, we promised to assist low-income families with child care. Wisconsin Shares, the child care subsidy program, is essential to helping low-income families work with the assurance that their children are being well-cared for and adequately prepared for school. At the same time, the quality of the care being provided to these families must meet certain standards; YoungStar, Wisconsin’s new quality rating and improvement system will do just that.

For many child care providers in my district, the standards established by YoungStar have been in effect since July 2011. By creating and employing this program, we are acknowledging that all children should have a proper foundation for success in grade school, regardless of family income. Early learning is essential for children to be ready for school, but it is also incredibly cost-effective. Simply put, investing in early education improves later life outcomes for children.

YoungStar features a tiered reimbursement plan for child care providers that employs a “carrot and stick” approach; based on a rating that considers a number of factors, reimbursement increases for high-quality providers, while decreasing for low-quality providers. The increased reimbursement is the incentive for providers to develop their quality of care, while the decrease is the “stick” that also prods them toward improvement.

One of the biggest factors in providing superior care and education to young children is well-qualified teachers and staff. In order to achieve that, professional development (courses and training programs) and technical assistance are a must. For many child care providers, that requires more capital than they have available. In order to fill that gap between providers’ aspirations and financial realities, the government must provide adequate funding for the T.E.A.C.H. scholarship, the R.E.W.A.R.D. salary bonus program, and other micro-grants programs that would allow providers to receive technical assistance and purchase supplies, educational resources, or professional development opportunities.

Education, at all stages of children’s development, is an issue that has been near and dear to my heart since I was first elected to the state Assembly in 2003. With the continued implementation of YoungStar in July, we will have the opportunity to what aspects of the program work and what aspects need some modification. However, the goal of the program, which is to create and enforce quality standards for early child care, is the ultimate good.