Milwaukee, Wis., Feb. 10, 2020 – A multi-pronged approach is necessary to strengthen the early childhood education system in Milwaukee, according to a comprehensive report commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation that found half of all Milwaukee children lack access to the early childhood education needed to support their future success.

Read the full, interactive report: A Seat at the Table – Ensuring Equitable Access to Early Childhood Education in Milwaukee

“We sought this needs assessment to inform the Foundation’s strategic investments, with a goal of furthering equitable access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education that meets families’ needs,” said Ellen Gilligan, Foundation president and CEO. “Considering the extent of inequities shown, the findings give rise to a broader community imperative to change this system so our youngest children have the best start possible in life.”

To understand issues impacting early childhood education (ECE) access, IFF researchers used provider and population data as well as conversations with families of young children in diverse neighborhoods across the city. Families seeking services encounter a range of barriers – limited quality, high cost, scarcity of programs serving infants and toddlers, insufficient hours of operation, restricted geographic access. Communities of color are especially affected.

The research found:

Quality.jpgQUALITY – Half of Milwaukee children lack access to an ECE provider with at least a 3-Star rating. YoungStar offers a way for parents to assess the quality of an ECE provider so they can select the best option for their child. Parents also want an ECE provider that supports the development of their child and provides a safe environment. While high-quality ECE offers these experiences, nearly 27,000 children in Milwaukee lack access to even a 3-Star ECE provider.


Cost.jpgCOST – Only 45% of income-eligible families currently receive financial assistance for ECE services. Even with financial support, families with the lowest incomes can spend upwards of 11% of their income on ECE; families with higher incomes can spend up to 20% of their income on ECE. Ultimately, the high cost of ECE in Milwaukee prohibits many families from obtaining the ECE they need.


Hours-of-Operation.jpgHOURS OF OPERATION – Only 30% of Milwaukee providers offer ECE during early morning and evening hours. Nearly three quarters of Milwaukee families with children under age 6 live in households with two working parents – but fewer than one-third of providers offer ECE outside of traditional working hours. Without access to ECE for their young children during hours that fit their work schedules, some parents are unable to rejoin the workforce after having a baby or may be forced to take a lower paying, part-time job.


Age-Served.jpgAGES SERVED – Two out of every three infants and toddlers lack access to a 3-5-Star ECE program. There are more than 18,000 children under age 3 who do not have access to a quality ECE provider. Providers often struggle to serve our youngest children due to the high costs of providing ECE to this age group. High-quality ECE for Milwaukee’s youngest children is important, as brain development peaks before age 3. Without enough high-quality ECE programs, Milwaukee infants and toddlers will miss out on early experiences crucial for their development.

Overall, Milwaukee has 47,000 children under age 6, and the ECE system is not large enough to serve them. What’s more, only one in three Milwaukee children live in a community with equitable access to ECE. Milwaukee’s history of racial segregation has created neighborhoods with varying levels of access to key services, including high-quality ECE. In some neighborhoods, families have more access because ECE providers are closer or larger. In other neighborhoods, families have less access because ECE providers are farther away or smaller. This uneven distribution of providers across all neighborhoods magnifies the problem of insufficient supply. 

To ensure equitable access, community-focused strategies must be implemented. The Foundation plans to focus its initial investments on infant and toddler care access and affordability and has established an Early Childhood Education Fund to help support partners and implement the work.

The long-term benefits include improved outcomes for children, such as increased high school graduation and college attendance rates, fewer interactions with the criminal justice system, as well as increased rates of employment and higher earnings as adults. It’s estimated that for every $1 invested in high-quality ECE programs, Milwaukee will likely see a $9 return.

About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is Wisconsin’s largest community foundation and was among the first established in the world. For more than a century, the Foundation has inspired philanthropy by connecting generous people to community needs that align with their interests. The Foundation was founded on the premise that generosity can unlock an individual’s potential and strengthen the community as a whole for everyone who lives here. We work in partnership with those who are committed to ensuring greater Milwaukee is a vibrant, economically thriving region that comprises welcoming and inclusive communities providing opportunity, prosperity and a high quality of life for all.

About IFF

IFF is a mission-driven lender, real estate consultant, and developer that helps communities thrive by creating opportunities for low-income populations and individuals with disabilities. From child care to senior housing, IFF works closely with clients from every sector, offering affordable, flexible financing; full-scale real estate consulting; and community development services.

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