The Governor has put forth a budget for our elected officials to approve. The Joint Finance Committee is holding public hearings allowing the people to add in any of their thoughts on the matter. The Press is publishing articles and airing clips of public officials and professionals trying to justify all kinds of positions on many different topics. This elaborate display is all part of the process and I am worried that we lose sight of the very important purpose of this key governmental role. When our representatives approve the state budget, we are effectively “putting our money where our mouth is”. This is Wisconsin telling the residents, and anyone else who is interested to know, that this is what we believe is important to us. In fact, we believe it so much that we are willing to invest huge amounts of our money into different programs and opportunities. So, no matter what the surveys show us, or what the research recommends, or even what we tell ourselves; the money trail reveals the truth about what we have deemed deserving of our support. What does the budget tell us about how we feel about Early Childhood? The surveys show overwhelming support from Wisconsinites! We all believe that making sure our little ones are getting quality support, regardless of race, income, religion, or anything else, is quite clear when we are asked. The research has been very clear about what those supports lead to. We can expect a huge return on any resources that are invested in our children. Better success rates in school, better employees, lower crime rates, and lower costs in social programs. Excellent! So, what does the money tell us?
The proposed budget requests that we spend 1.7 million dollars to help make sure parents receiving benefits to help offset the cost of childcare don’t lose hundreds of dollars in benefits because they receive a $0.50 raise at work. It allows for 38 million dollars over the next 2 years to be spent to make sure families get benefits for a year, and if something happens and they lose their job, they have 3 months to find a new one without losing their childcare benefits which will help keep the kids in place during that tough time. It will help provide more training requirements to push certified providers to become licensed and add more oversight to school based programs. The budget also shows no increase to the reimbursement rates for childcare centers. That is the amount of money a parent on assistance gets from the county to put towards their childcare costs. That amount hasn’t seen a significant increase since before 2006.
Those are the numbers and numbers don’t lie. There are lots of different programs and interested parties that are competing for resources each budget cycle. It would be naive to think that every person should choose childcare above all other programs and needs. But, it would be a dereliction of duty if I didn’t speak up for the field of Early Childhood. This budget shows some great steps in the direction of supporting quality childcare for everyone, but it also shows a lack of investment in the program as a whole. Parents who are receiving benefits are still not able to afford quality care because the funds haven’t tracked with the costs. There is still no real investment in teacher development and compensation. I’m not a salesman, so I don’t know how to sweet talk a politician or grease the right palm to get what children need. But I can stand up, and raise my voice, to make sure that we don’t one day stand looking at a generation of our friends and family who struggle through life because nobody told us we weren’t doing enough to stop it.