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BizCast 27: City of La Crosse Gives $400,000 Additional to Child Care Crisis

Episode 27

City of La Crosse Give $400,000 Additional to The Parenting Place for Childcare Crisis

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

[00:00:05] Michelle Sampson: when we surveyed child childcare providers, we had 200 empty childcare s slots sitting in the city of La Crosse just due to staffing.

[00:00:18] Vicki Markussen: Welcome to Biz Cast Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast brought to you by Biz News. We bring you news out of the business community. I am your host and founder of Vicki Markussen, and I have the pleasure of having Michelle Sampson. You are with The Parenting Place and our topic is Childcare, which for many people who have children, understand the challenge that is out there of finding.

[00:00:44] Vicki Markussen: Childcare. And for those who don’t, this will be a wake up call to them that there is some have called it a crisis. Let’s start though, with the parenting place. What does the Parenting

[00:00:57] Michelle Sampson: place do? Yes. Thank you Vicki, for having me today. So Vicki said I work for the Parenting Place and the Parenting Place is an organization in La Crosse.

[00:01:07] Michelle Sampson: That we’re a twofold organization. We’re both a family resource center, so we offer programming that serves families. And then we’re also a childcare resource and referral agency which means that we have a variety of services. That serve childcare needs in our community as well.

[00:01:24] Michelle Sampson: So some of those services that we offer include childcare, certification, and pre-licensing. So essentially anybody that’s interested in going into childcare regulation, we would be the first staff and do provide those services. We offer resource and referral services to families. So we are one of nine childcare resource and referrals across the state.

[00:01:46] Michelle Sampson: So we have the ability to create an itemized childcare list for families who are looking for childcare so we can help create that for families. We also provide technical assistance services to both per perspective and existing childcare providers. And then we all. So have childcare training.

[00:02:08] Michelle Sampson: So we provide the entry level courses along with other required trainings that are needed to enter the early care and education field, such as CPR and abusive head trauma, along with a lot of trainings that meet the professional development needs. That. Providers need. We also have business supports for businesses, which include, currently include the Partner Up and Dream Up programs that are funded through the Department of Children and Families.

[00:02:37] Michelle Sampson: And then finally for the reason I’m here today, we have the City of La Crosse ARPA funding. And so that is a program that we are just wrapping up our first year. And it is to support the city of La Crosse with The helping with the childcare crisis, like you mentioned. Yeah. I’m gonna

[00:02:55] Vicki Markussen: backtrack you a little bit cuz I wanted clarity.

[00:02:57] Vicki Markussen: So in short, like you’re a great resource for the childcare companies for their employees to get them trained and you’re also a great resource. For families, not just on the childcare side, but just parenting in general. But when you say an itemized list of referral agency, you are a place that parents looking for childcare can go to.

[00:03:21] Vicki Markussen: And there’s a list there of these are. Are these licensed childcare

[00:03:25] Michelle Sampson: centers? Correct. So they’re all regulated. Families can either go online or they can call and let us know what they’re looking for, so how far away they’re willing to go if they’re wanting a group center, family, childcare if there’s any other.

[00:03:39] Michelle Sampson: Special requirements they’re looking for, then we can put it into our database and it creates an individualized list for that family. Now, it doesn’t specifically show where the openings are but it does give them that list that they can start looking. For childcare. Got it. Okay.

[00:03:55] Vicki Markussen: So now let’s go back to your partnership with the city of La Crosse. What does that, how did that get started and what does

[00:04:02] Michelle Sampson: that look like? Yeah, so the city of La Crosse, like many municipalities received ARPA dollars and very early on they allocated a portion to childcare. Because the city knows that we are in a childcare crisis.

[00:04:15] Michelle Sampson: So they decided to partner with the parenting place and we’ve been doing that work. So we’ve been utilizing City ARPA dollars to both support existing childcare within our community and then also, So to begin engaging businesses and others in the community around ways to continue to support quality childcare within the city of La Crosse.

[00:04:38] Michelle Sampson: And I

[00:04:38] Vicki Markussen: know from my Chamber of Commerce days, and we took childcare. before the pandemic. To the state saying, we are, well, we thought we were in a crisis then. It’s a whole other story now, but the why this is. Coming about is the number of childcare centers it’s declined significantly.

[00:04:57] Vicki Markussen: Like it’s what, 25% what it

[00:05:00] Michelle Sampson: used to be? Yes. Yeah. The numbers have continued to decrease and the numbers of individuals going into it, into the field have not kept up with that. And on top of, just the decreasing numbers, Of overall programs we’re running into. One of the biggest barriers with existing childcare centers is staffing.

[00:05:22] Michelle Sampson: So even though we have centers within the city of La Crosse, we had back in January when we surveyed child childcare providers, we had 200 empty childcare s slots sitting in the city of La Crosse. Just. Due to staffing. So those were, those are classrooms that are already licensed. They have materials but they do not have qualified staff.

[00:05:44] Michelle Sampson: And so there cannot be children in those classrooms right now. That’s another piece is that , we need to be looking at ways to support existing childcare within our city. Yeah. And

[00:05:55] Vicki Markussen: I’m gonna take a deep dive but I think people really need to understand why this is, it’s a complex issue. Yes. So I remember, cuz we had someone interested in buying the old chamber building and wanting to put a childcare center in there. And one of our businesses took a look at their financial model cuz they were asking us to help.

[00:06:12] Vicki Markussen: Finance the purchase of the building. And the gentleman looked at it and said, these numbers, there’s no way to be financially viable with the numbers that are being thrown out there. And some of it is due to regulation. You want your children to be safe, but it comes at a cost.

[00:06:29] Vicki Markussen: And then the other piece of this is obviously the families need childcare to be affordable, right? So there’s only so much of your wages you can pay. But on the same hand, those employees need to make a livable wage.

[00:06:43] Vicki Markussen: And so you’re stuck in this really tough. Business model. And I’m guessing that has led to some of the decline in the number of facilities.

[00:06:53] Michelle Sampson: Yes. Yeah. The state of Wisconsin actually recently did a a study where they looked at the true cost of care. So what does it actually cost to care for children?

[00:07:06] Michelle Sampson: And that’s. Broken down into different ages because due to licensing requirements, there’s different ratios depending on the age of the child. And so the state of Wisconsin found that the true cost of care, for an example, for an infant, any child under the age of two what is $450 a week in our area, The average tuition prices are about $200 less than that.

[00:07:28] Michelle Sampson: So when we look at where is that $200 coming from, that’s coming from the childcare centers. That’s coming from the childcare programs the wages and the benefits and some of those pieces that they’re not able to offer are because their tuition prices are not matching what the true cost of care actually is.

[00:07:44] Michelle Sampson: And you’re right we’re in a hard sp. Thought that childcare programs know that they have to also make it affordable for families because families can’t all afford $450 a week for childcare per child,

[00:07:56] Vicki Markussen: And so one of the ways that they are able to provide care at that $200 less. Than true cost is they reduce their cost, right?

[00:08:06] Vicki Markussen: So they have, they’re paying less in wages and cutting where they can, where regulation allows them to, but I’m sure it’s in wages. Cuz then that gets to the lack of employees, which leads to empty classrooms. And if they only had employees, they could have more children. Is that the crisis

[00:08:23] Michelle Sampson: that we’re in?

[00:08:23] Michelle Sampson: Yeah. Essentially. We’ve found that the biggest barriers to to the childcare workforce are salary benefits. The work itself. It’s difficult work. And then the final one too is lack of respect for the industries. Just not being seen as a career choice as well.

[00:08:40] Michelle Sampson: But yeah, in our survey that we did back in January, we found that in the city of La Crosse, the average teacher qualified position was just a little over $15 an hour. So that’s, Somebody that has taken entry level courses, has spent time getting, so many hours.

[00:08:57] Michelle Sampson: They do so much professional development every year. And then the average, like I said, is about $15 an hour. So

[00:09:03] Vicki Markussen: Obviously people understand that $15 an hour, you’ve. Seen sign. We’ve all seen signs at some of the fast food restaurants that are paying more than that and don’t have those requirements to start.

[00:09:14] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. Okay, so let’s backtrack to make sure that I covered your City of La Crosse partnership. And so some of that partnership is looking at how can you help these childcare centers retain employees? Yeah.

[00:09:28] Michelle Sampson: We asked providers what are barriers, what are challenges, and what are potential solutions? And then we were able, To use that information to create and disperse recruitment and retention stipends to existing childcare providers to help with the workforce shortages. So we were very happy in that we distributed, I believe it was 27 recruitment and retention stipends to existing childcare providers in the state of lacrosse for a total of, I think $167,000 that we were able to To use to help support.

[00:10:00] Michelle Sampson: And that money went directly towards wages benefits, professional development, recruitment, bonuses. And we learned that it did help. So we learned that it, there were programs that were able to offer recruitment bonuses and get individuals who are maybe assistant teacher qualified, getting them to teacher qualified, and then being able to open.

[00:10:23] Michelle Sampson: A classroom or having individuals who maybe are go to our local colleges, willing to stay on a little bit longer or stay through the summer rather than going home to another job that, yeah, may pay more but is not in childcare. So we did hear success from those.

[00:10:41] Stipends.

[00:10:42] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic.

[00:10:43] Vicki Markussen: And then you listened to the childcare providers and identified some of those needs. What are some of those other needs that you have met that the survey helped you identify?

[00:10:55] Michelle Sampson: Another one is access to the like professional development. So we continue to offer a variety of training opportunities that individuals can use for their continuing education that’s required, but then we also offer. Entry level courses. We offer the cpr, abusive head trauma. Those are all mandatory trainings.

[00:11:17] Michelle Sampson: And then the final one we, like I mentioned, just lack of respect for the For the career. And so this year we had our very first ever childcare pro provider appreciation event that we hosted at the Maple Grove Venue in out in West Salem. And we had, we were overwhelmed with the results we had.

[00:11:37] Michelle Sampson: Over 103 childcare providers attend the event. It was a night of we had a taco bar. We had games. We had over 40 door prizes. I believe we had cake, we had speakers from both the local and state level talk about their appreciation. For childcare providers. And it was all made possible due to generous donations from our local communities.

[00:12:03] Michelle Sampson: So we were able to reach out to local employers and businesses and like I said, we’re overwhelmed with the amount of donations that came in. So it was our first one and we are excited to do it again because it that was, I think the piece I heard from many providers were. Was, thank you for doing this, for bringing attention to the work that we do every day.

[00:12:24] Vicki Markussen: You talked about what you’re doing for the childcare providers, the companies, but you also talked about engaging businesses. Mm-hmm.

[00:12:33] Michelle Sampson: Yeah, so it’s that’s the second piece of what this This position through this city is looking at is how can we engage the local community and businesses? Because we know that this ARPA funding is not forever. So how can we really look at this to be sustainable? So we have Then hosting, we call ’em the local conversations, childcare edition meetings.

[00:12:57] Michelle Sampson: And they’re every other month. And it’s a space for local employers and businesses and community members to come together. And we talk about the childcare challenges what they’re seeing within their own organization. And then we look at solutions. So like I mentioned there every other month we have used that data that we collected through the survey to share with local businesses and share what the true current state of childcare is.

[00:13:24] Michelle Sampson: And I think that’s been really in important. It’s helped almost. I don’t wanna say change the conversation, many individuals hear that there’s a childcare crisis and their initial thoughts are, we need to build more childcare. We need to build more childcare. When, and then, we hear that there’s 200 empty slots sitting in our, within our city.

[00:13:42] Michelle Sampson: The conversation changes a bit when you learn what the true barriers are and that just building buildings isn’t going to solve those barriers. But looking at how can we look at increasing wages and benefits into Ramp up the workforce in the in within the field. So that survey has been an instrumental piece I think, in having our local employers seeing what the true

[00:14:05] Vicki Markussen: barriers are.

[00:14:07] Vicki Markussen: On that note, as you said, you can’t just build it because if you don’t. Increase the number of employees, then you’re just stealing people from other companies that’s not actually creating more slots, so to

[00:14:19] Michelle Sampson: speak. Yeah. Yeah. We need to look at, how to build the workforce.

[00:14:23] Michelle Sampson: How can we Engage individuals who are interested in early care and education, how do we get them into the field and how do we keep them in the field? How do we make sure that they can stay and aren’t leaving for, some of these, like you said, a fast food chain that maybe is making, $20 an hour.

[00:14:40] Michelle Sampson: So how can we look at retaining? It’s that recruitment and retention piece. And if

[00:14:45] Vicki Markussen: you have individuals who love to be around children, yes. The logical path to using their knowledge is to go to schools that also, like everyone has a shortage of employees, right? Yes. And so it’s almost like a pipeline, if you will, if you love working with children, the childcare centers need to be as valued as.

[00:15:06] Vicki Markussen: The schools Yes. And offer comparable benefits because otherwise it’s just gonna be a churn but we need our childre centers to be strong because we don’t have fully engaged.

[00:15:16] Vicki Markussen: Workforce, . There people out there that want to work yes. But have a childcare issue. Okay. So going to the businesses, getting that back on track. Yeah. So you can’t just build it. What, how are you having conversations with the employers on what they can

[00:15:27] Michelle Sampson: do? Yeah, so we’ve been as so with, within these meetings that we’ve been hosting, we’ve been looking at what are some innovative employer supported childcare models.

[00:15:38] Michelle Sampson: That allow employers to support their employee needs in regards to childcare. So we’ve been looking at, some very, some interesting models of things that are happening throughout the state. So we’ve even pulled in some different examples. All the way from, looking at w what would it look like for a local business to partner with a childcare center and purchase childcare slots or what, what could that look like?

[00:16:04] Michelle Sampson: What could that relationship be? So that’s the route we’re going is just looking at a lot of different options. We know that there’s not one business model that is going to work. For every business out there. We know that not every business model is gonna work for every childcare program either.

[00:16:19] Michelle Sampson: So we need to make sure that we have a variety of options. And that way the partnership between the businesses and the childcare providers will be the best for both because we need to make sure that. By supporting employees in our community. We’re also supporting childcare as well.

[00:16:36] Vicki Markussen: As you say that, I’m visualizing a lot of small businesses that I know where they just Yeah.

[00:16:41] Vicki Markussen: Don’t have the profit margin to be able to do that. And especially if you tend to have a business that attracts young people, yeah. And so to emphasize, you have a list that doesn’t just include that is. The only option Correct.

[00:16:55] Michelle Sampson: For businesses. Correct. Like I said, we’re really trying to look at and that’s why at these meetings too we’re wanting a variety of individuals from, large businesses all the way down to small businesses.

[00:17:06] Michelle Sampson: But looking at, what will work for their business because we know that there’s not just one business model that can work for everyone.

[00:17:12] Michelle Sampson: Yes.

[00:17:13] Vicki Markussen: And the nice thing is you are not the only one in the state that’s trying to work on this. There are other. Organizations and other businesses and lots of brain power being put

[00:17:23] Michelle Sampson: into this, ? Yeah. So like I mentioned, we are one of nine CCR and R agencies across the state. And all the CCR and r agencies have what’s called a business childcare advocate.

[00:17:33] Michelle Sampson: And we have one in La Crosse as well. We work very close together, all the CCR and r agencies are looking at different ways that. Businesses and the community can support childcare needs. How

[00:17:46] Vicki Markussen: deep is that need? So if you fill the existing 200 slots, is there still a gap?

[00:17:54] Michelle Sampson: Probably yes.

[00:17:55] Michelle Sampson: We know, when we did our survey back in January when we looked at the number of children on wait lists, we found that there were. A total of 1,233 children on wait lists. Now we do know that some of that’s duplicated. Many families I know when I was looking for childcare, I was on multiple wait lists, with my children.

[00:18:18] Michelle Sampson: But we do know that the need, is still great. Although we know that families are on multiple lists, we also know that many families hear that you know their number. 60 on a wait list, and then they decide not to even go on a wait list. Because they think, what’s the point?

[00:18:33] Michelle Sampson: So we know that there’s both sides to that as well.

[00:18:36] Vicki Markussen: Which is tough, yeah. By the time someone goes to the point of calling a childre center Yeah. They probably already have a little one on the way. Yeah. And that strikes panic of, okay, we have so many months to figure this out.

[00:18:53] Vicki Markussen: And to hear that number is,

[00:18:55] Michelle Sampson: Devastating. Yes. Yeah. It really is. People often ask me, they know what I do, and they often say, what’s the secret to finding childcare? And it I have to tell them, there is no secret. Yeah. Honestly, we’re just, we’re in what’s called a childcare desert in our area, so there are just not enough, there’s just not enough childcare for the number of children.

[00:19:14] Michelle Sampson: And it’s, yeah, it’s a crisis.

[00:19:16] Vicki Markussen: So a surprise question for you, but I like to ask it of people.

[00:19:19] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. What makes you passionate about what you

[00:19:21] Michelle Sampson: do? So I went to school for education. I always knew I wanted to be in education. Out of college I always thought I’d go into the school district. I got a job teaching preschool and it was a childcare center, . And I fell in love with early care and education. I. Worked for a couple years teaching preschool and then I worked my way up in the center and held an administrative role

[00:19:46] Michelle Sampson: so my husband and I are both from the La Crosse area. After the birth of our second child, we moved back to the area. My husband found a job, so I was. Both job searching and looking for childcare. And I was that parent that was struggling to find childcare. So I joke with many of the providers that I work with that I was probably on their wait list five years ago at this time.

[00:20:08] Michelle Sampson: Looking for childcare and it. I was offered a job and had to postpone only about two weeks, but I did have to postpone for a brief amount of time because I could not find childcare. And it it’s a real issue. And, within La Crosse County.

[00:20:22] Michelle Sampson: There was a study recently that found that 25% of workers in La Crosse County report spending two to five hours per month arranging alternate childcare work. So just knowing that even people who then find childcare that they are still looking for, if it’s not quality childcare, if it’s not meeting their needs it’s still it’s pulling away from their work time and business, and that becomes an economic issue within our community.

[00:20:47] Vicki Markussen: You can relate to the struggles of those parents, it’s just a passion and. You can be a solution provider for it. That’s fantastic.

[00:20:58] Michelle Sampson: Plan. Yeah.

[00:20:59] Vicki Markussen: Michelle Sampson with The Parenting Place. Thank you for joining us.

[00:21:03] Vicki Markussen: You’ve been listening to Biz Cast Greater La Crosse with your host, Vicki Markussen. We’ll catch you next week.



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