What if Wisconsin stopped making childcare pointlessly costly?

Patrick McIlheran

Gov. Tony Evers may not get this, so he griped Thursday about how the Legislature didn’t heed his summons to show up in a special session and approve his idea to pour fuel onto the bonfire that is childcare costs.

Instead, the Legislature came, refused to make the problem worse, then went back to considering better ideas.

The argument between the Democrat governor and the Republican majorities in the Legislature isn’t over whether parents need some help with costly childcare — which, if you use center-based care, can be more expensive than college tuition, a report noted Thursday.

Rather, it’s how to help, and over the meaning of “temporary.”

Atop its usual childcare subsidies given to parents, Wisconsin’s government for three years passed along $600 million in grants to childcare providers under the “Child Care Counts” program, a federal dollar-gusher meant to keep childcare centers afloat as pandemic lockdowns kept parents at home. The pandemic is past, and the temporary aid is reaching its expected end — after not merely keeping providers afloat but allowing wages in the industry to rise.

Evers insists that Wisconsin taxpayers need to take over, turning the temporary surge into a permanently higher baseline. Over the three years in which flowed those $600 million in extra federal subsidies, Wisconsin’s existing childcare subsidies to parents amounted to $871 million: This was not just a little extra help.