Child care is a critical resource for our community. The City of Madison has advocated for quality child care for almost 50 years – investing considerable time and energy through its accreditation system working with providers to attain and maintain high quality standards.

Never has the child care situation been more dire than it is now:

  • 45% of child care centers reported they had vacancies in their programs because they could not hire enough employees to staff all of their classrooms.
  • 28% of centers reported they had entire classrooms empty because they could not hire staff.
  • 1127 children in Dane County have had to be turned away because classrooms were closed due to staffing shortages.
  • 2,500 children are on waiting lists for regulated care throughout the City and approximately 6,000 are on waiting lists in Dane County.

A new study by the Wisconsin Counties Association demonstrates that the cost of child care in Wisconsin can eat up as much as a third of a family’s income. The cost of child care for two young children can be more than the $22,000 cost of tuition for two undergraduate students at UW-Madison.children's education aid

The lack of child care workers in turn impacts the entire economy. Madison already has more job openings than workers to fill them, and that shortage is compounded by the child care crisis. In 2022, Wisconsin’s women’s labor force participation dipped below 60% for the first time since the late 1980s. Parents who cannot get childcare, most often women, are forced to stay home to care for their children, worsening state and local workforce shortages and slowing down economic growth.

Here at the City, we are doing what we can to make child care more accessible and affordable for Madison families. The City offers scholarships for families who cannot otherwise afford child care, and has a variety of programs that support providers. But there is only so much the City can do; a real solution this crisis requires action at the state and federal level. The biggest challenge for Madison and much of the state is the shortage of child care workers. It is primarily the result of low wages (exacerbated by rising wages available in other segments of the economy), plus high burnout. Kids Forward, the Madison-based child advocacy organization, noted that the median pay for child care workers in Wisconsin is just $12.66 an hour.

“The child care crisis in Wisconsin has reached a boiling-over point,” Michele Mackey, CEO of Kids Forward told the Wisconsin State Journal recently. “If the state Legislature wants to address the hiring shortage, they need to start with ensuring accessible and affordable child care.”

That’s why the Governor included $340 million to continue monthly payments to child care providers in his annual budget to make up for expiring federal funds. Unfortunately, legislative Republicans stripped that money from the budget. Last week, the Governor called a special session last week to highlight the crisis and consider using some funds from the state budget surplus to allow providers to pay higher wages, something that many other states have already done. Unfortunately, legislative leaders gaveled into session and immediately gaveled out without taking action.

The few proposals that were considered by the legislature miss the mark. The proposal to raise staff to child ratios seems to be exactly the wrong response in the current environment. Low wages and high burnout already make it difficult to recruit and maintain child care workers; increasing staff to child ratios will only add stress to an already stressed workforce and hasten burnout. That’s why current staff to child ratios are in place for the health and safety of young children and are supported by a variety of local, state and national organizations.

Another proposal would allow staff as young 16 years old to provide unsupervised guidance to children. It sends an alarming message about how some perceive the profession of early child care. Child care is not babysitting, it is a time for learning, growth and development. In many countries around the world it is a well-paid profession supported by state and federal governments.

I am deeply concerned about the lack of child care on Madison’s economy and our community. The City has done what we can - and we are looking at doing more. But as the numbers above indicate, this is a national and state problem, not just a local one, and the City cannot fix it alone. For the past two years during COVID, the federal government took steps to help keep child care available. We need those steps to continue; more importantly, we need the state legislature to spend some of its $7 billion dollar surplus on helping families access child care for their children.

If we want our economy to continue to grow and our residents to prosper, the state must get serious about supporting this service which is critical to our kids and our community.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Mayor's Office and a link back to the original post.