Madison College President Jack Daniels: Madison must get child care right

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Our community’s childcare crisis is at a breaking point, and it is not just impacting today’s parents and employers. It is impacting a generation.   

The declining number of childcare workers in Wisconsin coupled with childcare costs that can average between 18% and 36% of a family’s income make finding and paying for childcare an insurmountable challenge for working families. 

Many parents with job-ready skills are unable to stay in or join the workforce due to the lack of affordable and accessible childcare, exacerbating economic and workforce challenges. Additionally, when a parent is forced to abandon or delay their education to care for a child, it interrupts their ability to gain employment skills. 

Solving this issue is not a burden we can put solely on the shoulders of families. The problem is systemic and requires bold ideas from innovative leaders, government policymakers, and organizations who commit to being part of the solution.  

This spring, the non-profit The Playing Field broke ground on a childcare center in the former Menards on the city’s east side, ensuring affordable childcare access for families, including our city’s most vulnerable - those experiencing homelessness.   

Photo of Madison College President Jack Daniels
Madison College is committed to being a part of the solution and partnering with other community organizations, businesses and stakeholders to make meaningful progress.
Jack Daniels
Madison College President

The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation’s initiative, Every Child Thrives, demonstrates a comprehensive approach involving the community, families, and employers. It is implementing an employer-sponsored care model that supports affordability for families and sustainability for childcare providers.

Madison College is also part of this inspired problem-solving. This fall, we plan to begin renovating a fire station next to Goodman South Campus into an Early Learning Campus, with the capacity to serve at least 70 children and families. The Campus will support some of the 42% of Madison College students who are parents and meet their unique needs with traditional operating hours, plus hard-to-find but essential weekend, evening, and drop-in care. The Campus is also poised to be a childcare option for a small number of other families in the South Madison community, where solutions are scarce. 

While this Campus doesn't have the capacity to meet the childcare needs of all our student parents and the south Madison community, it’s a critical step forward.

This Early Learning Campus will also serve as a training site for future educators, helping to alleviate the shortage of qualified childcare professionals. The number of childcare workers in Wisconsin dropped nearly 30% between 2020 and 2021. 

This crisis is complex, and without a galvanized response, it will get worse. Employers will lose out on a talented workforce to meet economic demand, families will be priced  out of thriving in their own community, and student parents will forego educational aspirations because they can’t find or afford childcare. 

We need to get affordable and accessible childcare right, and we have the community and business leaders who can do just that. It will take collaborative thinking, a willingness to examine different financing and operational models, and a readiness to take action.

Madison College is committed to being a part of the solution and partnering with other community organizations, businesses, and stakeholders to make meaningful progress. This issue goes beyond education and training, it’s about fostering sustainable futures, enhancing lives, and serving our community for generations to come. 

This is op-ed from College President Jack Daniels was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on July 3, 2024.