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Experts mull how to meet WI's child-care issues

Nemanja Mandic/lordn - stock.adobe.com
Wisconsin News Connection

The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing issues in Wisconsin's child care infrastructure, and experts are weighing how to restructure the system to provide equitable care for kids and fair pay for caregivers.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, half of teachers who are based in child care centers plan to leave the field in the next five years.

Alejandra Ros Pilarz, assistant professor of social work at UW-Madison, said nearly 40% of family care providers also plan to leave in the same time frame.

"Across both groups, the most common reason for wanting to leave the field, other than retirement, was to find a job with better compensation, or with more opportunity for advancement," Ros Pilarz reported.

Ros Pilarz pointed out the median wage for a center-based teacher is $13 an hour, and less than $8 an hour for a family provider. Child care centers are larger operations, while family care providers are typically smaller, local businesses.

Ros Pilarz noted the state's rural counties saw a nearly 20% decline in licensed child care providers from 2005 to 2019, and families of color and immigrant families were more likely than white families to live in child care deserts.

Anna Markowitz, assistant professor of education and information studies at the University of California Los Angeles, said teacher turnover can have a significant impact on kids' behavioral and academic development.

As she explained in a seminar to Wisconsin lawmakers Tuesday, building bonds is critical when it comes to teaching young kids.

"Children who lose out on these relationships due to teacher turnover essentially lose out on learning time, and they also may struggle to manage the emotions of that loss," Markowitz emphasized. "They lost a person they cared for, and they don't quite understand why."

Among other solutions, UW-Madison's School of Public Policy proposed supplemental earning programs for teachers who meet certain criteria, and establishing professional development and credentialing initiatives with an eye toward long-term career development.

Jonah Chester is Wisconsin Public Radio's 2022-2023 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. He most recently worked at Public News Service, a national radio news service, where he covered Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He previously produced the 6 O'Clock News at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he won numerous awards from the Milwaukee Press Club and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for his reporting on issues in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.
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