Childcare in La Crosse County: Exploring the childcare dilemma in La Crosse County and potential solutions

Author

Abigail Becker

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La Crosse County has been struggling with childcare accessibility for its residents due to lack of viable options. The past two decades have seen significant decreases in the amount of regulated childcare businesses. In 1998, there were over 450 regulated childcare businesses in existence in La Crosse County. By 2019, the number of regulated childcare businesses was 115. According to a survey from the Parenting Place, 86% of families noted there is a lack of childcare options in La Crosse County1. Not only is there a lack of options, but the cost of childcare is also a concern. The survey also found that nearly 1 in 5 families spent 25% of their total family income on childcare expenses. The lack of affordable and accessible childcare options has hurt La Crosse in terms of recruiting new employees to the area. Multiple employers have shared that potential employees have turned down job offers in La Crosse because of the lack of childcare options.

Some businesses have tried to combat this issue themselves. Gundersen, a hospital in La Crosse, offers free childcare to employees. Their program provides care for children between ages six weeks and 12 years and has a capacity of 101 children total. However, this program is not large enough and many Gundersen employees still struggle with finding childcare. Kwik Trip, another large employer in the area, is planning to open a childcare facility for its employees. Since it hasn’t opened yet, we aren’t aware of how it will impact childcare in La Crosse.

The La Crosse School District and other school districts in the county provide free half-day preschool to 4 year olds. Although this 4k program is great to have in place, there is an issue with transportation since many parents work during the day and cannot pick up or drop off their kid halfway through the workday. Additionally, most of these kids need to be at a childcare center for the other half of their day and many centers prefer not to offer half-day care. Recently, a traveling preschool program, which will be run out of a RV, started in an attempt to reach 4 year olds in the La Crosse School District that cannot attend the regular preschool program provided by the district. If the county decides to expand pre-K to include 3 year olds, childcare centers will likely have to increase their costs. Caring for infants and toddlers is quite expensive, so childcare centers become profitable when they care for 3 and 4 year olds. Obviously, an increase in childcare costs is not ideal because childcare in La Crosse is already very expensive for many families. If pre-K is expanded, it’s important to consider how the county could support childcare centers in the area.

Based on recent census data, La Crosse County has around 5,900 kids under the age of 5. If the county decides to implement universal childcare, this is the number of kids they should account for. No matter how La Crosse decides to go about solving issues related to childcare, this is good to know for cost estimates for their projects.

UniverCity Year Contact Info
Gavin Luter
Managing Director
gavin@cows.org
608-261-1141

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