From left, Reps. Karen Hurd (R-Fall Creek) and Joy Goeben (R-Hobart) speak at a public hearing on a group of chilld care bills Sept. 6. (Screenshot | WisEye)
The Wisconsin Assembly will take up six Republican bills relating to child care Thursday after they passed committees this week with only GOP votes.
Backers said the measures would help expand child care resources by relaxing teacher-to-child ratios and open up the prospective child care workforce by allowing younger employees to work in the field.
Critics, including child care providers, said the legislative package would reduce child care quality without addressing child care’s central challenge: how to keep care affordable while improving pay for child care workers in order to expand the available pool of potential employees.
AB-387 would enable parents to set aside up to $10,000 a year before taxes to pay for child care costs. It passed the Assembly Ways and Means Committee Tuesday 8-4.
The Assembly Children and Families Committee advanced the other five measures Tuesday, also on 8-4 votes:
- AB-388 would create a $15 million revolving loan fund for child care center operators to finance renovations to their properties. The same proposal was in the state budget, but Gov. Tony Evers had used his partial veto power to convert it to a grant program. The bill would undo that change.
- AB-389 would create a new category of large family child care centers, caring for up to 12 children.
- AB-390 would lower the minimum age for an assistant child care teacher or group leader for school-age children to 16. The current minimum age is 18, with exceptions made for 17-year-olds who meet certain additional qualifications.
- AB-391 would increase the maximum number of children per child care worker and the maximum number of children per age in group child care centers. It would also allow group centers to match the average teacher-pupil ratio in the local school district.
- AB-392 would change the rules for child care providers with a county certification rather than a state license, allowing them to care for up to six children regardless of whether any are related to the operator. Currently those providers can care for no more than three children who are not related to them.
“I realize that my bill package is not going to solve all the problems in child care, and I never presented them that way,” Rep. Joy Goeben (R-Hobart), lead author of all but one of the measures, said at the Sept. 6 hearing. “But I do feel that we need to take steps to offer more flexibility to our providers and to expand access to quality child care, and supporting administrators, owners and operators as the ultimate decision-makers.”
After voting with other Democrats against the bills in the Assembly Children and Families Committee, Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa), issued a statement criticizing the measures, charging that they were drawn up “without a spirit of bipartisanship” and that some had been opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as detrimental.
“The Republican bills deregulate and decrease the quality of childcare, propose to increase the childcare workforce by increasing child labor, and remove the flexibility the Governor provided the state to financially assist childcare centers with a line-item veto within the budget earlier this summer,” Vining stated.
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