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Report: Half Of Milwaukee's Young Children Lack Access To Quality Early Education

Emily Files
Some Milwaukee schools, like Riley Elementary (pictured) offer 3-year-old kindergarten. A new report from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation lays out the gaps in early education that exist in the city.

High-quality early childhood education is often inaccessible for Milwaukee families. That’s the bottom line from a recently-released needs assessment commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

The report concludes that half of all Milwaukee children under age 6 do not have equitable access to the early education that is crucial to healthy brain development. Low-income families of color are especially affected by shortcomings in the city’s childcare landscape.

“Quality is hard to access for many families, but especially for economically disadvantaged families,” said Jeannie Fenceroy, manager of education and scholarships at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “We know there’s a tremendous shortage of slots, especially for infants and toddlers.”

The needs assessment highlights four main barriers that families encounter when searching for childcare: quality, cost, hours of operation, and ages served.

Andrea Libber, with the family support organization The Parenting Network, helped organize parent focus groups which contributed to the report. When faced with all the barriers that exist, “they compromise,” Libber says.

"While parents want a high-quality early childhood educational opportunity for their children, they have to find one that is open when they need it, that is located somewhere they can get to and from and still get to work, it has to be a place they can afford.”

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation plans to use the new report to steer its philanthropy. Fenceroy says the foundation is investing in facilities improvements at the United Community Center early learning center, and will be offering grants to help recruit people interested in entering the early education field.

“If we come together around these initiatives, we will be able to improve the education landscape — specifically for the littlest people in the community," Fenceroy said. "So that this city can be the thriving city it ought to be.”

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.