MILWAUKEE — Many day care center owners in Wisconsin are raising a red flag, saying the child care industry is in crisis.
According to a survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 63% of Wisconsin day care centers are experiencing staffing shortages, and nearly 80% of workers are facing burnout or exhaustion.
In Wisconsin, a large portion of federal funding for COVID-19 pandemic relief has gone to the state’s Child Care Counts program. Many child care center owners credit this program with keeping their facility afloat over the past few years.
But the funding is set to expire in January.
Because of this, Kelly Belot, who owns Tiny Green Trees child care center in Milwaukee, said day care centers are in limbo.
Beyond doing all the paperwork and recruiting for Tiny Green Trees, Belot’s role also includes doing the dishes, checking on each classroom, and a lot of other tasks. It’s the result of having to do more with less, as demand increases and funding from the state is in jeopardy.
“We are staying open, we are doing our best to plan ahead, and cut unnecessary costs,” she said.
Belot said she knows the difficulties families face when trying to find child care. Tiny Green Trees has a long waiting list for babies and toddlers.
“A lot of newly pregnant moms are on our two-year waitlist,” she said.
The biggest challenge for Belot and many other day care owners in Wisconsin is attracting more staff. Many industries offer a bigger wage than child care.
The average wage of a child care worker in the state is between $7.50 and $13 an hour, according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.
“You want to leave college and have a wage to pay back student loans, but also to pay for your rent, your food and have a reasonable lifestyle after going to school for something,” Belot said. “We have teachers working for all that too.”
Belot said it’s even worse for day care centers in rural areas. She’s talked to some owners up north, who have said they are losing their skilled employees to Minnesota.
“Teachers are going over the border where they can make additional wage increases and benefits because they just can’t get them in the state of Wisconsin,” she said.
That’s why Belot is trying to raise awareness about Wisconsin child care centers needing help. She said they can’t afford to lose any funding.
“It is about supporting the families, the teachers and the children right now,” she said. “We need to get the message out that our state needs to get public funding for this. It is the only way this industry will survive.”
Belot said if the monthly stipends she receives through the Child Care Counts program stop in January, she will have to make drastic cuts to her program.
“It’s really scary,” she said.
She said she is hoping that lawmakers can reach an agreement that allows all Wisconsin babies and children to get the best care possible, and makes day care workers feel appreciated.
Tiny Green Trees in Milwaukee is one of many day care centers throughout the state that Gov. Tony Evers visited and spoke at in his push to generate more state funding for the Child Care Counts program.
Republicans voted against the program, and instead are proposing other solutions, advocating for regulatory changes to the child care industry. Republicans want to create a loan program for child care centers that would allow families to deduct child care savings from state income taxes.
Evers is against these measures because he said day care centers need help right now. He said keeping the Child Care Counts program fully funded allows for that.
The governor is calling lawmakers into a special session to talk about child care on Wednesday, Sept. 20. However, Republicans are expected to gavel in and gavel out.