Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Accountability and quality for all

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier in July that the school district of Menomonee Falls would partner with four local child care centers to provide taxpayer-funded Kindergarten for four year olds next year, due to parental demand. Working parents in that suburb wanted an option for 4K that would also provide child care during non-school hours. The report noted that the Hartland-Lakeside and Elmbrook school districts are also looking to partner with private early education providers to offer 4K in the fall.

Here at the Forum, we find this news interesting, mostly because we have embarked on a project to evaluate the potential economic benefits of high quality early childhood education for our region. When hearing this, many people assume that we will focus on urban areas in our region because that is where the need for child care is the greatest or where improvement in quality is needed most. Which is to say, assumptions are made regarding who demands child care and who provides it: suburban moms are assumed to stay-at-home and suburban child care providers are assumed to be high quality.

As the news story illustrates, child care is in demand throughout the region. Wisconsin as a whole has a very high portion of women in the workforce, including women with children under age six; demand is great everywhere.

But more remarkable is that of the four child care centers/preschools in Menomonee Falls that will offer taxpayer-funded Kindergarten next year, none is currently accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the main accrediting body for child care providers. Accountability is not just about the store-front day care centers in the central city; quality is an issue everywhere.

Thus, the Forum is tackling early childhood education as a regional issue--anywhere we have public funds invested in early learning.

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