Centergy, the regional economic development organization for Central Wisconsin, is keeping a vigilant eye on the state capital as draft legislation concerning childcare made its way through the corridors at the Capital on Wednesday.
This development holds significant implications for both the local economy and the well-being of families in the region. As policymakers debate the future of childcare, Central Wisconsin residents and businesses await the potential changes that could affect childcare and workforce participation in the area.
The proposed legislation would increase the permitted ratio of children to teachers and lower the minimum age for entry-level childcare workers. Other items in the package of six draft bills include creating tax-advantaged accounts that families could use to cover childcare costs and a loan program that providers could use to renovate their facilities.
Highlighting the importance of this issue, Centergy took the initiative by hosting the 2023 Central Wisconsin Days in April, with childcare as one of the central focus areas. This platform allowed stakeholders to engage in meaningful discussions and strategize for talent retention and recruitment in the region.
The co-sponsorship memos set a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday for legislators to sign up — a remarkably short window that suggests GOP leaders plan to formally introduce them as soon as next week.
The proposals and their draft numbers are:
Creates an interest-free revolving loan program that providers can use to renovate childcare facilities, up to $30,000 for an in-home provider and up to $100,000 for a provider whose center is not home-based.
Adds to the state’s two categories of providers — family centers for four to eight children, and group centers for nine or more children — a new “large family center” category for four to 12 children. The proposal would require two childcare employees for a center with nine to 12 children, and a large family center could not care for more than eight children who are age 2 or younger.
Rewrites a current Department of Children and Families (DCF) regulation to lower to 16 the minimum age for an assistant childcare teacher — currently 17 or 18, depending on the person’s qualifications. It lowers the minimum age for assistant teachers or group leaders for school-age children to supervise kids on their own to 16 from the current 18. It also removes current restrictions that limit the hours and amount of time that assistant teachers, including teenagers, can supervise children alone while retaining a requirement that another qualified leader must be on the premises.
Creates a state account program allowing parents or guardians whose employers don’t already provide federal tax-free dependent care accounts to set aside up to $10,000 a year for child care expenses.
Increases maximum ratios of children per childcare worker and the maximum number of children per age in group childcare centers, and allows group centers to change their ratios of workers to children to match the average teacher-pupil ratio in the local school district.
Relaxes restrictions that apply to certified childcare providers — who are regulated by the county rather than the state. The Legislative Reference Bureau synopsis of the bill says that it allows certified providers to care for up to six children under age 7 and removes a requirement that some of those children must be related to the provider.
In conclusion, while the proposed bills addressing some childcare infrastructure and operations are a step in the right direction, there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome to achieve long-term sustainability in this crucial sector. Centergy remains committed to closely monitoring developments in childcare legislation, recognizing the direct impact it has on the workforce within the Centergy region.
Stay tuned for further updates as more information becomes available on the evolving childcare landscape in Central Wisconsin. Centergy will continue to advocate for policies that support both economic growth and the well-being of families in the area.