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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Audit Committee hears more problems about Wisconsin Shares

Audits


The more the state delves into the rampant fraud associated with Wisconsin Shares, the state child care program, the more problems we discover that beg serious questions.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee that I serve as a member conducted another public hearing this week about the Legislative Audit Bureau's findings about Wisconsin Shares.  The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has done its usual outstanding work in uncovering important information that can and should serve to fix Wisconsin Shares and make the program successful.

Kate Wade of the LAB presented a litany of data about Wisconsin Shares at today’s hearing that continues to raise questions.

Caseloads per specialists have ranged from a low of 23 to a high of 170.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends a caseload of 75 per specialist.

The pattern is that the vast majority of child care applications for licensed and certified providers are approved. During fiscal year 2009, 706 out of 753 licensed providers were approved and 915 of 922 certified providers were approved.

There were 6300 routine visits made to provider facilities during fiscal year 2009, 1300 complaint investigations, and another 1300 visits to see if violations were being addressed appropriately.

In Milwaukee County, 168 licensed facilities had five or more unsuccessful visit attempts during a five-year period as opposed to 13 in the rest of the state. There were 102 unsuccessful visit attempts during a five-year period at certified facilities in Milwaukee County with 118 unsuccessful visit attempts at all other certified facilities in the state. An unsuccessful visit means access to the facility could not be attained. Many times the door isn’t answered. State statutes do not specifically outline a required frequency of visits.

Wade told the committee 617 facilities were overdue for visits.

N
o distinction is made about the severity of citations made during regulatory visits. A startling statistic Wade told the committee that 30 regulatory visits during a three-year period yielded 40 or more citations. There are huge regional variations. Most of the violations occur in southeastern Wisconsin.

Not all observed violations were reported, recorded, or cited. There were many cases of failure to cite payment errors.

The total number of sanctions has increased over the past five years from 475-976. Sanctions are noted under broad categories as opposed to specific administrative code violations. Licenses are normally revoked for record-keeping errors.

The LAB found eight matches of felons working at facilities with another 317 individuals that had convictions that needed to be reviewed to determine if the individuals posed a danger.

Many facilities are overdue for background checks.

The LAB recommends a severity index be developed, greater documentation be made of unsuccessful regulatory visits, and that tribal facilities fulfill their child care obligations.

Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Reggie Bicha then addressed the committee with a lengthy presentation claiming the department has made “sweeping reforms” and great progress. Secretary Bicha admits he’s not satisfied and should not be.

For example, Secretary Bicha said there have been 124 calls to a special fraud hotline. One of the calls was from a worker at a facility that wanted to know why that particular facility wasn’t suspended since she was the only person working there. I asked Secretary Bicha what his agency did about the hotline call. He said an investigation is still underway and he could not comment further and I understand.

Secretary Bicha said payments have been suspended to 137 providers. Overpayments of $3.5 million have been identified during the past year. Criminal charges have been pursued in two cases during that time.

During my questioning of Secretary Bicha, I noted that the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) ranks Wisconsin #6 in the nation for rules and regulations and #41 for oversight. He disputed the ranking for oversight of rules and regulations saying NACCRRA miscalculated.

I also asked Secretary Bicha what he considers a serious number of violations. He replied it depends on the type of violation, the severity, remember, there is not a severity index as recommended by the LAB, the amount of violations over time, and the measures taken by the provider to fix the violations.

How could the department have missed so many problems and what was being done to address those issues? Secretary Bicha said those decisions are judgment calls on the part of licensers. The actions taken range from a written reprimand to an immediate suspension.


I suggested that weighting the citations would provide valuable information to parents seeking child care. Resources should be focused on pinpointing the severity of violations.

Clearly more problems are bubbling to the surface meaning Wisconsin Shares needs further scrutiny and possibly more remedies from the state Legislature.

DCF is scheduled to provide a report about the status of Wisconsin Shares this June.

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