The Myth of 4-K as Subsidized Daycare
Two years ago, for instance, when the state was last in the midst of budget talks, members of a GOP-led budget committee looked into suspending state funding for 4-K. One of those backing the option, Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah), explained: "I just worry about it being subsidized day care for certain children."
To be sure, this line has strong rhetorical value because it plays into the perceptions of people without children and, perhaps to a lesser extent, stay-at-home parents who are led to believe there's a selfish motivation for 4-K that really isn't about benefiting children, communities, or the state as much of the research on the topic makes out.
Hence, the opponents of 4-K aren't just saying that 4-K isn't necessary for some kids, they're also implicitly (or, in some cases, explicitly) making the argument that the only reason 4-K exists for those kids who, they argue, don't need it developmentally is because their parents want it financially.
But this critique of 4-K, to put it bluntly, is a myth.
It comes down to the fact the 4-K programs are not full day affairs. In fact, the DPI sets the standard for 4-K programs at 437 hours of operation per school year, which comes out to 2.5 hours per day in a 175 day school year.
This leaves a significant portion of the day where there is no care for the children. For working parents -- the ones who, under the conservative argument, are supposedly reaping financial benefits from 4-K -- this means private daycare is still a necessity even if their kids are in the public 4-K program.
So just what is the cost difference between daycare before the 4-K program and daycare with the 4-K program?
The thing with daycare costs is that they decrease as kids get older. The most expensive care is for kids who are 0-2 years old, at least partly because state law requires a higher teacher-child ratio during that time. As the teacher-child ratio requirement decreases, so does the cost, although other factors could also play a role in the drop.
The cost of full-time care for 0-2 year olds in Milestones is $265 per week. That cost drops to $220 for 2-3 year olds, a 17 percent decrease. For 3-4 year olds, the cost goes down again to $195 per week, which is an 11.4 percent drop.
When a child enters the 4-K program in the
In other words, the 2.5 hour length of the 4-K program essentially does nothing to the cost of private daycare; in fact, at least in the case of Milestones, the drop in cost when the child enters the 4-K program is less than the annual decrease parents see in the previous years.
And it makes sense, too. After all, 2.5 hours of less care per day isn't going to decrease the overall operating costs for the daycare provider in any significant way. The provider still needs to hire full-time staff to care for the kids, even though one group will be elsewhere for a brief stretch in the morning and another group for a brief stretch in the afternoon.
So while opponents can argue all day with the research that points to the benefits of 4-K programs for kids, communities. and the state as a whole, to argue -- explicitly or implicitly -- that parents who push for 4-K programming are just looking for daycare on the public dime is plain wrong.