Public Policy Forum Blog

YoungStar and Milwaukee County’s afterschool workforce

Past Forum research has revealed that most afterschool programs in Milwaukee County have received relatively low ratings from “YoungStar,” Wisconsin’s child care rating and improvement system. Our research also indicates that the biggest barrier to higher ratings may be the educational qualifications of program staff.

Those findings prompted us to explore two questions:

  • What educational standards do state policies establish for the staff of afterschool programs in Wisconsin, and how are programs in Milwaukee County doing in meeting those standards?
  • If staff education is the most common hurdle preventing afterschool programs from improving their quality ratings, how high is the hurdle and how can it be overcome?

We provide the answers in “Reaching for the Stars,” a new report released this morning. The report finds that there is a substantial educational gap between the current workforce and a workforce that would allow every YoungStar-rated afterschool program to attain high-quality 4- and 5-star ratings. Furthermore, afterschool programs are struggling disproportionately to meet YoungStar’s staff education standards as compared to early childhood care providers, which suggests that policymakers may wish to consider whether the rating system’s staff education criteria for school-age programs – which were modeled after those used for group child care centers – are calibrated appropriately.

Our analysis also finds that the availability of professional development classes that would help to reduce the educational gap for afterschool programs is limited, and funding mechanisms that might help programs address the gap have considerable barriers to utilization.

Key findings from the report include the following:

School-age programs in Milwaukee County have disproportionately low YoungStar ratings relative to group child care centers. Nearly three quarters (72%) of school-age programs have received 2-star ratings, as compared to 42% of group child care centers, which primarily serve children under the age of five. In addition, less than 1% of school-age programs in Milwaukee County have received ratings of 4 or 5 stars (indicating high quality), while 16% of group child care centers have done so. 

YoungStar’s staff education requirements are a major obstacle preventing many school-age programs in Milwaukee County from receiving proficient (3 stars) or high-quality ratings (4 or 5 stars). YoungStar has specific staff education requirements for program directors and teachers that must be met to qualify for ratings of 3, 4, or 5 stars, and those standards are based largely on those that exist for early childhood care providers. Very few school-age programs currently have staff with the educational credentials needed for their program to improve their YoungStar rating. Among the 96 school-age programs in Milwaukee County with 2-star ratings, for example, only nine have the staff education credentials needed to qualify for a rating of 3 stars or higher.

Efforts to advance the YoungStar ratings of school-age programs in Milwaukee County from 2 to 3 stars and from 3 to 4 stars would require a large investment in credit-based workforce training. The educational gaps preventing school-age programs in Milwaukee County from earning high-quality ratings of 4 or 5 stars are significant. Collectively, the report estimates that teachers would need to earn at least 853 additional credits and program directors would need to earn at least 2,293 additional credits for all programs to qualify for 4 stars. The estimated cost for tuition alone to provide this training would be between $430,000 and $1.1 million.

Overall, we hope this analysis of YoungStar ratings and their application to afterschool programs will provide valuable insight to policymakers that will encourage them to explore system improvements. In particular, the question raised in our previous research regarding the efficacy of existing staff education requirements for school-age programs would appear to merit further consideration. 

While YoungStar’s fundamental goal of encouraging quality improvement remains worthwhile, that goal also hinges on the system’s ability to provide information to parents that will allow them to choose high-quality options. Given that less than 1% of afterschool programs currently are rated 4 or 5 stars, most parents are precluded from using YoungStar to make such a choice when it comes to afterschool programming. That, in turn, indicates a need to tweak the ratings system, invest more heavily in quality improvement, or both. 

Joe Peterangelo