‘Rules must be clearer,’ say providers
MADISON – Senator Spencer Coggs, chair of the Committee on Children and Families, Disability Rights and Housing Sustainability held the final hearing of his legislative career on YoungStar, Wisconsin’s child care improvement program. The informational hearing was held in the heart of the 6th Senate District at the North Side YMCA on West North Avenue.
“The purpose of this meeting was to provide the child care community with information on how to deal with the Department of Children and Families and their partners to improve quality. Our specific goal is to assist providers in achieving higher YoungStar Ratings for quality and fairer compensation,” Senator Coggs stated. More than 50 providers attended, and most gave testimony.
The YoungStar Program rates programs annually, and providers are assessed a rating ranging from 1 (ineligible for funding) to 5 (highest quality level) stars based upon education qualifications and training, learning environment and curriculum, professional and business practices and child health and well-being practices. Many child care providers stated that YoungStar rules and regulations are confusing and unduly punitive, noting that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) should do a better job of explaining the requirements and supporting providers.
People traveled to Milwaukee from Kenosha, Racine, Pleasant Prairie, and as far as Green Bay to share their experiences and voice their concerns about the YoungStar Program. Providers identified systemic problems, such as receiving inconsistent and contradictory instructions from YoungStar’s technical consultants and evaluators; the fact that moving from one star level rating to another is very expensive; how small providers are at a disadvantage in terms of the ability to attract, compensate and retain college educated staff and are saddled with low ratings as a result; that similar industry standards that are normally acceptable for such things as cribs and children’s books are rejected by YoungStar.
In addition, a provider claimed that a finding of noncompliance by the YoungStar Program is not appealable.
Judy Norman-Nunnery, DCF Administrator of Early Care and Education, testified on behalf of YoungStar and touted its successes. Administrator Norman-Nunnery noted since YoungStar began in 2010, 4,333 programs have been rated, and most of them, 3,022 received a 2 star rating, which means that the providers met health and safety standards. 885 received a 3 star rating, 127 received 4 stars and 271 received a 5 star rating. She also noted that only 28 programs received an unsatisfactory rating of 1 star.
Ms. Norman-Nunnery noted that with any new program, there are difficulties that providers face as they transition, but she expressed confidence that the department and providers are up to the task. Ms. Norman-Nunnery concluded that DCF remains committed to maintaining support to providers and setting consistent standards as the quality of care given by providers continues to improve.
Senator Coggs’ efforts focused on the upcoming legislative session and encouraged providers and DCF to work closely with their elected officials in the upcoming session to answer the many concerns that were raised by providers.
Representative-elect LaTonya Johnson, a former child care provider and President of AFSCME Local 502 also gave testimony. She noted that many providers are struggling to stay in business and many have quality centers that have closed, which in her opinion, jeopardizes the quality of child care that parents have access to. Senator Coggs will share the important information that he received at the hearing with Representative-elect Johnson and other newly elected Representatives and Senators so that they can carry on the vital work of ensuring fairness and consistency in the YoungStar Program.
As Senator Coggs’ final hearing as a 30 year veteran member of the Wisconsin Legislature came to a close, he thanked all who were in attendance for their unyielding dedication to vital issues such as quality child care. Senator Coggs now serves as Milwaukee City Treasurer.
“Although I will no longer be a member of the Wisconsin Senate, my passion for the people of this great city and state and the issues that confront our communities has never been greater, and I will continue to work hand in hand with all entities to ensure a strong and thriving Milwaukee,” Coggs concluded.