Stacy Reinacher kept having the same problem. Parents were turned off by the rating of her home-based family child care program. Her story appeared in a recent two-day series in the Wisconsin State Journal.
As the first article explains: “Her small, in-home center in Madison earned just two stars out of five — the most common rating and nothing to be ashamed of, yet disappointing to some parents.” Reinacher says in the article: “You’d say two stars, and they’d be like, ‘Really, that’s it?’ And then you wouldn’t hear from them again.”
Reinacher had the same challenge as other providers who seek a high rating: a lack of college credits.
Brooke Hill ran into the same problem. Her child care business only received two stars despite her years of experience.
“She was furious,” the article said. “A veteran child care provider, she believed the rating didn’t reflect the quality of her center, Bear-A-Boo Daycare. Plus, she wasn’t given much time to understand the criteria before being rated, she said, especially the part about how closely her score would be tied to the educational qualifications of her staff.”
“State officials always said most centers would get two stars, at least initially,” the article says. “That’s because the state’s previous approach to licensing focused on health and safety. YoungStar [the state’s quality rating system] pushes a center to think much more about its early learning curriculum — and whether it has the qualified staff to teach it.”
A New Ratings Tool
Both Reinacher’s and Hill’s programs were evaluated using YoungStar, the child care ratings tool developed by Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families. YoungStar was “created to improve the quality of child care for Wisconsin children,” according to the state’s website.
YoungStar evaluates and rates the quality of care given by providers; helps parents choose the best setting for their children; gives providers tools and training; and “sets a consistent standard for child care quality.”
As the Department of Children and Families explains in a statement, “YoungStar not only raises the bar for Wisconsin child care providers; it provides an incentive to further develop the quality of their child care programs.”
The state’s YoungStar providers “have access to training opportunities for their staff and technical assistance for their program. YoungStar technical consultants work with YoungStar providers to identify areas to improve and to make changes that increase the quality of care. Micro-grants are available to help providers purchase items such as books and learning materials.”
Early Education and Care Providers Head Back to School
To earn higher ratings for their child care businesses, Reinacher and Hill went to college.
“Reinacher does not have a college degree. But on a recent afternoon at her in-home center, she pulled a hefty binder from a shelf and paged through the records from all of the continuing education classes she’s taken in the past decade — 192 hours’ worth.”
“Those non-credit classes improved her skills and helped her maintain her state license, but they didn’t help her move up the rating’s ladder. She couldn’t become a three-star center unless she earned at least 12 college credits — typically four college courses. Her competitiveness kicked in.” Reinacher started taking online classes and eventually her program earned a three-star rating.
Hill said of the initial two-star rating, “It was a great incentive to say, ‘We’re better than this, let’s show them we are.’” As the article notes, “11 of the center’s 14 teachers, plus Hill, are taking college courses or will be soon, and Hill is using all of the state’s tools at her disposal to improve her center’s quality.”
“In the past 18 months, the center has climbed to a three-star rating, which the state defines as meeting ‘proficient levels of quality standards.’”
Challenges and Achievements
Providers do face challenges, the article says. Taking classes after a long day of caring for children can be exhausting. And providers need to pay tuition. Wisconsin helps by offering scholarships.
In Wisconsin and across the country, early education and care providers need higher salaries that acknowledge their responsibilities, skills and credentials. Yet increased investments in the early education workforce should not come from parents, many of who already struggle to pay the high cost of care.
Hill is grappling with some of these issues. The article notes, “To get to four stars, Hill and much of her staff would need a lot more college credits. Even more significantly, Hill would need to offer a better benefits package, because professional-level compensation is among the criteria rated. Though she once provided health insurance, Hill said she can no longer afford it. She offers no pension or retirement plan. That speaks to the razor-thin profit margins in child care, especially in a non-urban market, Hill said. She has not raised rates since YoungStar and is hesitant to do so, knowing how strapped some of her parents are.”
The challenges, however, are giving way to big wins for providers and children.
As Xochitl Ortega, director of a five-star program, writes on YoungStar’s website. “As we look back on our journey – a journey that started out with hesitant, tentative steps, we see just how far we have progressed,”