Thursday, July 5, 2012

Afterschool in Milwaukee: Is it child care?

In our latest report on child care policy in Wisconsin, released today, the Forum estimates between 24,000 and 30,000 school-age children attend afterschool programs in Milwaukee.  Starting this week, these school-age programs will now be subject to the same quality rating system as child care programs for younger children.  This promises to bring dramatic changes to many afterschool programs, as school-based programs have not previously been reviewed by state officials for regulatory compliance.

The inclusion of afterschool programs serving low-income children in the quality rating system results from the fact that many programs receive state payments under the state's child care subsidy program, Wisconsin Shares.  This child care revenue stream will become increasingly important to many afterschool programs which had been mostly reliant on federal dollars with a limited lifetime.  The result is a search for sustainability under a changing mix of revenues that has both practical and policy implications.  These implications are analyzed in our new Research Brief, "Afterschool in Milwaukee: Is it Child Care?"

Issues considered include:

1. Differences between child care and afterschool funding sources.  Federal and state funds for child care are awarded to low-income families to support their ability to afford the providers of their choosing.  In contrast, federal afterschool funds are awarded to specific programs operating in partnership with specific schools and serve all families, regardless of their ability to pay.  

2. Differences in regulatory agencies overseeing school-age programs.  Child care programs are regulated by the state's human services agency, the Department of Children and Families, while many afterschool programs have fallen under the purview of the state's education agency, the Department of Public Instruction.  These agencies work together on many issues, but have different missions and goals.

3. The ability of the child care quality rating system, designed by experts on high quality early childhood education and informed by decades of research, to accommodate school-age afterschool programs, which differ from early childhood programs in many significant ways.

The Brief also provides examples from other states that have grappled with the revenue sustainability problem, as well.  Some of these examples cite the use of federal child care funding streams, but others utilize local revenues, state education funds, or state income tax credits.  

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