State and local leaders discuss solutions for childcare shortages

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 4:27 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - Wisconsin continues to face a shortage of childcare options, which is bringing stakeholders together to discuss potential solutions.

A summit held at Western Technical College in La Crosse Tuesday aimed to identify ways to strengthen and expand childcare across the state.

Executive Director of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association Ruth Schmidt says childcare deficiencies aren’t a new problem, but the issue has been accelerated in recent years.

“Five years ago, we had a 40% turnover rate in this field,” Schmidt recalled. “Since then, we’ve seen COVID, we’ve seen worsening working conditions for people who work in early care and education.”

Those factors have resulted in fewer childcare workers, which is leaving parents with little options.

“We have thousands and thousands of children on waiting lists for childcare that aren’t going to get childcare if we can’t help the childcare industry find the workers that they need,” 7 Rivers Alliance CEO Chris Hardie said.

A lack of workers means less childcare availability, so parents who wish to work are unable to do so...which then leads to overall workforce shortages as those parents can’t fill job openings.

Hardie says it’s difficult to attract people to the childcare industry due to significant pay disparities with other professions.

“The average wage for childcare workers in Wisconsin hovers in the $11-$12 an hour range, with only 20% of those getting any kind of benefits,” Hardie detailed.

The Early Childhood Association is trying to change that reality.

“Our association pushes to move compensation towards parity with our K-12 schools based on education levels,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt believes childcare should be considered a public good, and should be funded in a manner similar to the state’s public schools.

Bolstering the childcare industry won’t be a simple task, so Hardie is calling for ideas across all sectors.

“I think that it does take businesses, government, parents, community leaders to acknowledge that this is a crisis, and that we all need to play a part in it,” Hardie added.

The summit at Western Tech was hosted by the 7 Rivers Alliance and Competitive Wisconsin.

It’s one of eight summits Competitive Wisconsin is holding as part of its “Wisconsin Tomorrow” initiative, which is intended to create workforce recruitment and retention strategies.

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