Damakant Jayshi

The Marathon County Board chair and the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce called for postponing a vote on a resolution calling for fewer subsidies and government regulations on child care, leaving its fate uncertain.

During a discussion at the educational meeting of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, Chair Kurt Gibbs asked that the board delay its vote on the resolution that has been under discussion in committee meetings. The resolution was introduced by Supervisor David Baker who – along with some other supervisors – said that child care is not the government’s responsibility, but that of the parents.

Gibbs supported Chamber President and CEO Dave Eckmann’s request to postpone the decision until after a town hall meeting on child care and workforce issues in the county next week.

Gibbs said the county government, along with businesses, has lost employees due to a lack of child care opportunities. He cited a report from Forward Analytics saying people have chosen not to go back to work because doing so is not cost-effective.

The report, ‘Priced Out: The Steep Cost of Childcare in Wisconsin,’ shows childcare costs could be as high as 36% of family income – if a family can successfully find quality care in the first place.

Gibbs also warned that the resolution in its current form shuts out any possibility for the county to participate in discussions on how to address the shortage of child care providers.

A chamber report on the county labor force paints a dismal picture as well, pointing to the impact of the high cost of child care. The report says an employee making the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns gross wages of $1,257 per month. The national average monthly cost for full-time daycare is $1,324 per month.

“To illustrate further, for a single parent with 2 children paying housing and food costs, hourly pay would need to be well north of $22-25/hr after taxes,” the report said.

Few people dispute that a lack of quality and affordable child care is a challenge. The differences arise on how to address that challenge.

Earlier, during public comments, Eckmann urged supervisors to attend the town hall next week and listen to the discussion before making a decision.

During the debate on his resolution, Supervisor Baker read the draft, explaining why he introduced it and reiterating his opinion that the lack of affordable child care in the county was a result of burdensome regulations that have severely impacted family child providers which, the resolution notes, declined from “5,000 certified family care providers statewide in 2001 to 580 in 2018.”

Baker also referred to a 2022 report from Angela Rachidi, a visiting fellow at the Badger Institute and a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank based in Washington, D.C. The report blames government regulations in shutting out family child care providers and suggests reviewing those regulations. Several of the assertions in Rachidi’s report have been challenged in a review by Steven Barnett, a Board of Governors professor and senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. The review for the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center said the report “eschews important research about the impact of regulation on quality.”

But Rachidi pushed back that her report’s conclusions are flawed. In a series of correspondence with Wausau Pilot & Review – through a Badger Institute official and directly – she said her research showed regulations were indeed having an adverse impact.

“Proponents of government-controlled childcare do not want to acknowledge the reality that some regulations drive costs up unnecessarily without improving child outcomes,” she said. “Government regulators should ensure the health and safety of children, but quality requirements can go too far.” She also said there is nuance to the subject that too many scholars ignore.

But Barnett told this newspaper that “the benefits of high-quality programs are so large that the cost of the regulations is likely to be modest relative to the benefits.” 

“The major risk is that we are spending too little, not too much,” Barnett said. “I can’t say how much is enough, but I am confident that current spending is not too high.”

The town hall meeting on child care is on Wednesday, Oct. 25, one day after the regular county board meeting.