Community Summary Report

Quality early childhood care and education is essential for the long-term success of young people in our region and for today’s workforce to effectively function, but the sector is in crisis. Lack of access to quality, affordable services for children 0-3 has chronically plagued Milwaukee – especially Black and Brown families – and the pandemic has compounded inequities and pushed the system to a breaking point.

For the second installment in its A Milwaukee for All series, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation invited national experts to join local changemakers and community stakeholders to explore solutions for transforming the early childhood education system so it works for everyone.

Hundreds of people joined the virtual convening on Sept. 17, 2021, as Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and Sherri Killins Stewart, director of state systems alignment & integration and co-director of state services for the BUILD Initiative, engaged in a deep dialogue with Foundation President and CEO Ellen Gilligan on the workforce challenges facing the sector and some equity-focused solutions that would benefit all. 

Community voice took center stage next, as local leaders facilitated eight different On the Table MKE discussions addressing key elements needed for a thriving early childhood education ecosystem.

The convening opened with a stage-setting welcome by Foundation Board chair Jacqueline Herd-Barber and closed with Board member Susan Ela advocating for action, while Ann Terrell, Milwaukee leader and NAEYC board president, offered special inspiration through her presentation, “And How Are The Children?” 

Supporting a strategic vision

Inspired by and supporting the Foundation’s overall strategic vision of A Milwaukee for All, this series presents an opportunity to work collectively toward a thriving, inclusive region. With racial equity and inclusion as its North Star, the Foundation serves as a catalyst and connector for advancing community priorities of early childhood education, matters of equitable economic opportunity and the collective work of the ThriveOn Collaboration.

By the numbers


Picturing Change

Key takeaways from the keynote conversation:

  • Can Milwaukee say, “All of the children are well?” The well-being of our community is only as strong as our children. 
  • Investing in quality early child care and education is the best investment we can make. The Foundation is committed to this priority and creating shared goals and actions together with donors and all partners.  
  • Early child care and education affects the whole community. This issue goes beyond families and extends to the workforce and economy.
  • This sector was in crisis before the pandemic. Currently workforce shortages have providers operating at 60 percent capacity. When parents cannot find safe and quality care, they cannot go to work or partake in their job in the same way.
  • With federal momentum, now is the time for advocates to rise at the city and state levels requesting policy changes and investments. The Foundation will use its voice as a unifier and influencer.

How the Foundation is investing in early childhood education:

  • Investing in an assessment of Milwaukee’s early childhood care and education sector, leading to “A Seat at the Table,” which detailed the gaps in access in Milwaukee and why they are occurring
  • Helping distribute a total of $1.2 million in grants in 2020 from the MKE Responds Fund and Home Grown Emergency Fund to help home- and center-based child care providers in Milwaukee confront the challenges associated with COVID-19.
  • Contributing to capital projects at early childhood education centers including United Community Center, Notre Dame School, Malaika Early Learning Center and St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care
  • Serving as the backbone since 2011 for the communitywide education partnership Milwaukee Succeeds, which has a key priority focus area on early childhood education

We’ve also advocated on behalf of the sector with key policy wins including: 

  • Ensuring child care staff were prioritized in the second wave of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility 
  • Informing Wisconsin’s use of CARES Act funding, which brought $33 million in stabilization grants to Milwaukee child care programs
  • Advocating to the Milwaukee Congressional delegation on behalf of sector investment, resulting in $148 million from the January 2021 federal stimulus and $580 million from the American Rescue Plan for early childhood education in Wisconsin
  • Sending a letter, which was signed by 74 people who attended our September convening, to the Milwaukee Common Council in October urging it to prioritize early care and education for Milwaukee’s children and families when allocating American Rescue Plan funds. The council’s Finance and Personnel Committee recently recommended approval of a $7 million investment of ARPA funds in Milwaukee’s early childhood education sector. In the coming weeks, the proposal will go before the full Council for a vote.

Read about the key themes that emerged in On the Table MKE discussions.

Committed to change

Eighty-four percent of attendees surveyed reported they will take action to make a difference. Here are some of the ways in which they are following through on that commitment:

Learn more

“I will educate myself more on the issues.”

“I will reconsider the strategies that have impactful levers on how my organization works with philanthropy for early child care.”

“I will further investigate how public schools can support and develop early childhood programs.”

Invest more

“I will continue to read information about early childhood initiatives and provide financial support. My husband and I have supported Notre Dame School Milwaukee's new 3 year program, Penfield and their Behavior Clinic, and other organizations that support young children with developmental disabilities.”

“As an early childhood educator I’m very active with pushing the initiative for more resources to provide higher quality care in underserved communities.” 

“I want to provide equal access to early childhood programs at informal education centers by looking for sponsors and donors to provide funding so that the children and their parents can attend free of charge.”

Do more

“I will work on early childhood community partnerships in our school district.”

“I will advocate for more equitable funding and pay structure for child care staff.” 

“I will continue to make "Good Trouble" so that our children get what they deserve.”

View our list of resources to see how you can learn more, invest more and do more to strengthen our community’s early childhood education sector.

Read the community summary reports for a recap of the other events in the series.

Equitable economic opportunities

Reimagining philanthropy

Learn more

Visit the A Milwaukee For All resource page for ideas on how you can learn more, invest more and do more to move our community forward.