VernonReporter

Village of La Farge among nine communities receiving share of $2.5 million in child care grants from the state

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) today announced the award of another $2.5 million in Dream Up! Grants to nine cross-sector community teams across Wisconsin. These teams will aim to help solve the challenges facing Wisconsin’s child care system and bolster the economy in their communities. 

“The Dream Up! program provides a unique opportunity for communities to rally together to find innovative solutions that support child care providers, families, and the local economy” said DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson. “We are eager to learn alongside these communities and continue our work in building an early care and education system that meets the need of Wisconsin’s families.” 

During the four-week application period the Dream Up! grant program received a large amount of interest with another 29 applications. While funding was limited, DCF was able to award grants to communities and businesses in each region of the state, with an emphasis on areas deemed child care deserts.

The Dream Up! Child Care Supply-Building grant program, administered by our partner, First Children’s Finance, focuses on building child care supply through a collaborative community approach

Nine cross-sector teams will receive strategic planning support and $75,000 in grant funding to evaluate, plan, sustain, and expand existing child care, and support new child care programs. Additional $5,000 stipends will be allocated to participating child care providers who submit business improvement plans during the strategic planning process. 

The team leads and their geographic focus areas include:

  • City of Mauston (Juneau County)
  • Village of La Farge
  • Langlade County Economic Development (Langlade County)
  • Child Care Resource and Referral (Calumet County)
  • United Way of Portage County
  • The Hmong Institute (Dane County)
  • United Way of Sheboygan County
  • Wood County Health Department
  • Latino Entrepreneurial Network (Latino Community in these Zip Codes – 53207, 53210, 53219, 53221, 53081, 53126, 53142)

According to La Farge Village President Frank Quinn the village was awarded $75,000 as seed money to address local daycare needs. In a phone interview Quinn said the village has had a committee working on the daycare issue that includes a wide range of stakeholders including the areas biggest employer, Organic Valley along with the La Farge school district, two churches and a previously licensed daycare provider. Quinn said the daycare issue has been a ongoing problem for residents in the community and for employers like Organic Valley and others.

Quinn said La Farge Schools Administrator Meaghan Gustafson is the one who alerted them that the grant was available to apply for. Gustafson was ultimately the one who submitted the application but it was developed in collaboration with the stakeholders in the core group formed around the issue. Quinn said they had a lot of great information already available to apply for the grant because of previous work with Organic Valley.

“We had a lot of feasibility studies and a lot of surveys from the community members and employees there at Organic Valley of the need for childcare,” Quinn said. “Maybe why don’t people work at OV? Things of that nature and childcare was a big issue for them as well, so they kind of partnered with us for this project so we are really excited to continue to meet.”

Quinn said now that the seed money is there it will take more planning an collaboration among stakeholders to come up with the best approach to filling the need. Quinn said the group will work with the state and come up with a plan that can meet the requirements of the grant and the needs of residents, but he hopeful they can leverage this grant to get a long-term solution in place for everyone.

“Vernon County as a whole is a daycare dessert,” said Quinn. “Especially La Farge because there is no certified or licensed daycare providers (in the village).”

According to numbers just released this week from Governor Tony Evers office, Quinn is correct that many Wisconsinites live in childcare desserts and La Farge is smack dab in the middle of one of the largest childcare desserts in the state.

As the state legislature and Governor Evers finalize the state budget for the next two years, one of the biggest points of contention is over funding for childcare. During the COVID pandemic the funding for programs to support daycare’s had increased and that increase is coming to an end.

According to a survey of nearly 1,200 Wisconsin early care and education providers from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, more than 27 percent of providers reported that their program would have closed without the stabilization grants, and when the grants end, more than 60 percent of child care directors say they will have to raise tuition on families and another more than 33 percent say they will have to cut wages or will be unable to sustain wages/salary increases for their staff. According to Kids Forward, the median pay for child care workers in Wisconsin is $12.66 an hour.

Additionally, 54 percent of Wisconsinites today live in a child care desert where there are few to no high quality options for child care in their neighborhood or community, and even if there is a nearby child care provider, it still might not be affordable for a working family. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report, the average yearly cost of center-based child care in Wisconsin is $12,415.

Gov. Evers today submitted a formal request to the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) to use remaining federal relief dollars to support Wisconsin’s early care and education (ECE) community through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Child Care Counts payment program. The Governor’s office says the Child Care Counts Program has been a lifeline for local child care providers and has helped make child care more affordable and accessible for working families while stabilizing the industry to maintain support for the state’s workforce. The request, if approved, will help continue provider payments through January 2024, when the program is set to end due to legislative Republicans’ refusal to permanently fund the successful program in the 2023-25 biennial budget.

According to the Governor’s office, to date, the Child Care Counts Stabilization Payment Program has distributed more than $378 million to 4,345 child care providers, ensuring 22,000 child care professionals remain or become employed and enabling providers to continue to provide high-quality care to 113,000 kids. This funding is in addition to the $230 million that was distributed through previous Child Care Count programs, which occurred between May 2020 and November 2021.

“Two weeks ago today, I urged Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance to approve my budget’s foundational investment to support and continue Child Care Counts, and they carelessly rejected the investment—putting Wisconsin families, our workforce, and our economy at risk,” said Gov. Evers. “Without this program, Wisconsin faces a perilous state of child care that will not only impact our current workforce and economy but also our future generations. With our state’s longstanding workforce challenges, we simply cannot afford not to support our child care industry. I am again urging Republicans to urgently make the necessary investments in this critical program.” 

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