More Wisconsin Kids Receiving Better Quality Child Care

Report Shows Quality Improves, But Access Remains Unequal

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Nearly three out of four Wisconsin children at certain child care programs are receiving “proficient” or “high-quality” care, up from just over half of children five years ago, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Researchers Joe Peterangelo and Betsy Mueller analyzed ratings by YoungStar, a state system that mostly tracks providers receiving funds from Wisconsin Shares, a state subsidy helping low-income families access child care. Not every provider in the state receives a YoungStar rating, and only those that do were included in the report’s analysis.

“Quality ratings are improving over the last five years,” Peterangelo said. “But there are differences across the state and depending on the type of child care provider in terms of how they’re doing and how they’re progressing over time.”

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In 2013, 56.1 percent of children attended programs rated three stars or more. This year, that percentage stands at 74.4 percent, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum’s report.

YoungStar rates providers from one to five, one meaning the provider does not comply with state regulations for health, safety and quality, and five meaning the provider meets the highest standards.

Group centers tend to rank higher than home-based providers, and children are increasingly enrolled with the former. Peterangelo said this partially accounts for the overall increase in children receiving higher quality care.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum found access to better care and the rates of improvement vary by region. Peterangelo uses Milwaukee County as an example.

“There’s been a significant progress in Milwaukee County in terms of shifting providers and kids up to three, four, and five stars,” he said. “That progress has actually been faster than in the rest of the state. So even though Milwaukee County still is a little bit behind the rest of the state and in high quality care, it’s been catching up.”

Although Milwaukee has one of the largest numbers of high-quality child care facilities, meaning providers receiving a four- or five-star YoungStar rating, those account for just 13 percent of its total providers. Dane County, meanwhile, has a similar number of high-quality providers, which constitutes about half of its providers overall.

Quality and access does not only vary between the most populous counties, but throughout the rest of the state as well.

Two counties in the northern part of the state, Vilas and Bayfield, have the highest concentration of four- and five-star rated providers: 67 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Five counties across Wisconsin have no providers rated high-quality by YoungStar: Crawford, Florence, Kewaunee, Menominee and Pepin.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum’s report also details how structural factors in the YoungStar rating system, such as an emphasis on formal education for child care providers, may keep some from receiving formal recognition through a rating of three or higher.

Peterangelo said the state Department of Children and Families has announced plans to adjust these requirements, and thus the rating system, for 2019.