Milwaukee Succeeds project offers providers support on accreditation journey

Higher quality early childhood education providers not only offer children a safe environment to learn and develop, they can also receive more public funding, with greater stability and opportunities for growth. A project supported by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is providing a way for providers to increase their program quality through national accreditation and is already showing signs of success.

“Accreditation can definitely provide a pathway for increasing the number of quality slots in a community,” said Dave Celata, deputy director for Milwaukee Succeeds, a communitywide partnership powered by the Foundation and focused on systems change in education. “It’s helping them [providers] be the best version of themselves, to be able to know how to best meet the needs of their kids and families, and to make sure they [children] get the best start in life possible.”

In 2021, Milwaukee Succeeds and 4C for Children, a nonprofit that aims to strengthen high-quality care and education, launched the Accreditation Facilitation Project to support early care and education providers as they navigate the national accreditation process.

Innovative programs like this are made possible by generous donors who support early care and education through the Foundation, including over $2.5 million raised for this priority area during the Foundation’s Greater Together Campaign. The Foundation has given a total of $607,500 to AFP.

“We are here to help programs who want to take the alternative journey of achieving a higher YoungStar rating by pursuing accreditation. Our goal is to help them break down the accreditation process into what I like to call bite-size pieces,” said Ashley Harrell, the AFP Coordinator with 4C for Children. “We try to find ways to provide resources and opportunities that support individual programs so they can be successful on their journey.”

The project’s caseload currently consists of 24 providers in Milwaukee – 19 are family child care programs and five are group child care programs, including a school with an early childhood education program that received accreditation last year.


The durability of accreditation 

Celata explained that providers are typically assigned a rating through the state’s quality rating system, YoungStar, which ranges from one to five stars. 

YoungStar ratings can fluctuate, and assessments occur every 12 months, Celata said. If an employee with an associate or bachelor’s degree leaves, so do those points. National accreditation, while more rigorous, is more durable, he said. 

National accreditation is provided through the National Association of Family Child Care and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

A family provider with accreditation receives a four-star rating for three years while center-based providers receive five-star ratings for five years. And the higher the rating, the more likely a provider can receive consistent funding from the state. 

“It provides greater and more consistent revenue into the program, which then allows them to build out their business without that risk of seeing a drop in funding immediately when an employee leaves or some other variable changes,” Celata said.


Hard work pays off

After 16 months of work, Notre Dame School of Milwaukee received its accreditation in October 2023, which led to its YoungStar rating of five stars. NDSM is a Catholic school on the south side that serves K3-eighth grade. Its early childhood programs consist of preschool and kindergarten grade levels.

“NDSM wanted to participate in AFP because it was an opportunity to show that the ECE world and the K-12 world can work together in order to strengthen and create new innovative educational systems to benefit children, families and communities,” Holly Tassone, director of compliance at NDSM, said. “Additionally, our ECE program is still new and this gave us a chance to strengthen our community partner base and provide a high-quality option that our community needs and deserves. AFP was a vital piece in this process. The monthly check-ins were crucial to share updates, ask questions or get resources that were needed to progress.”  

And while NDSM is the first in the cohort to be accredited, it won’t be the last. 

Harrell noted that NDSM is shedding light on how early care and education programs can operate within school sectors. 

“They are a trendsetter in Milwaukee,” Harrell said. “Although there are other schools within the nation that are NAEYC accredited, Notre Dame is one of the first for Milwaukee. And that’s a big deal and that inspires others." 

“I hope the achievement of what’s going on in Milwaukee catches the eyes of legislation, the government and the school systems…I want that funding to come from the state and federal level because the money is there.” 


The benefits of the project 

While the project isn’t designed to alleviate all the challenges of pursuing accreditation, it does strive to support programs through financial aid, technology support and a listening ear. 

Accreditation can be pricey, Harrell said. The initial cost ranges between $1,200 to $1,700 for family child care centers and between $3,000 to $5,000 for group child care providers plus the cost of additional supplies, support teachers or training. AFP helps providers cover the initial cost and the cost of supplemental materials.  

From start to finish, accreditation can take up to two and a half years. Harell pointed out that while the clock does eventually run out, providers can move at their own pace and pivot when necessary. 

“The providers that I have worked with who have seen this whole process through, they have remained resilient and committed to finding ways to being very savvy about when they study, how they study to ensure that they are getting closer and closer to the finish line on their own pace,” she said.      

Support a stronger system for our littlest learners through the Foundation’s Early Childhood Education Fund.


Read more Greater Together E-news stories