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MADISON — The Evers administration failed to follow the law, its own evaluation criteria, and basic open government standards, according to letter of protest filed with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. At issue: DCF’s intent to award the state’s child care quality oversight administration contract to an out-of-state company led by an old Democratic Party pal.

State Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) says it’s the latest in a pattern of the Evers administration steering government business for political benefit.

“It is frustrating to see what should be an objective scoring criteria completely pushed aside,” he said.

As Wisconsin Spotlight first reported, Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA), which has administered the state’s YoungStar program for more than a decade, filed the protest letter after DCF last month signaled its plans to award the contract to New York-based Shine Early Learning. YoungStar is Wisconsin’s child care quality rating and improvement system.

Shine’s president, Reggie Bicha, who served as the Badger State’s first secretary of the newly created DCF under Democrat Jim Doyle, has a troubling track record as the former head of Colorado’s Department of Human Services.

The official protest pauses the completion of the contract negotiations, opening a review of the process, DCF spokeswoman Gina Paige said earlier this month. Paige says SFTA and Shine Early Learning each provided excellent proposals, but Shine came out on top in the procurement points scoring. Paige did not provide the financial terms of the contract.

’Not in compliance’

SFTA’s overarching concern is how the contract process was conducted.

“In this case, DCF’s evaluation process was not in compliance with Wis. Admin. Code § Adm 10.08(4). The submitted proposals were not reviewed based on the evaluation criteria included in the RFP (Request for Proposal), and accurate records were not kept or made transparent throughout the evaluation process,” SFTA Executive Director Matricia Patterson alleges in the letter, dated May 3. The protest is addressed to DCF Finance Director Rachelle Armstrong.

Patterson asserts DCF should change its contract award because, beyond the violations of Wisconsin administrative code, the “evaluation committee failed to follow” the agency’s own evaluation criteria spelled out in the RFP.

SFTA alleges Shine failed to directly answer several questions in the request for proposal, yet “received high scores from the evaluation committee in those sections…”

But Shine seemingly pushed all the right buttons of Evers’ equity-centric political agenda. The New York company preaches that the United States is plagued by “historical biases and systemic inequities,” the kind of themes found in the left’s critical race theory dogma. The Evers administration’s request for proposals included such woke requirements.

“We envision a world where children become champions of their own making; where historical biases and systemic inequities no longer stand in the way of their infinite promise,” the company states on its website.

“The YoungStar training and technical system must be built on a foundation of equity, not equality…,” states Shine’s proposal response to the state, obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight.

But representatives from the Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies regions in the state that work to support and improve Wisconsin’s approximately 4,500 child care providers are concerned about what they see as holes in Shine’s proposal.

“I do believe it’s going to be really difficult to move forward with the way Shine has made its proposal,” said Paula Breese, executive director of Family and Childcare Resources of Northeast Wisconsin. The nonprofit provides education, support, information referrals, and evidence-based home visitation programs and early childhood consultation throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

Breese said Shine’s plan leaves out details of how it would implement the YoungStar system. Shine’s proposal calls for the use of remote training and Breese and others worry the company will cut staff. SFTA alleges Shine has failed to provide details on coaching and training of child care providers, as required by DCF.

“There is the potential for the Shine proposal to really lower the quality and we could see a significant loss of providers participating in YoungStar,” Breese said. Ironically, the areas of concern could increase the inequality of child care in rural Wisconsin and for children of color, she said.

SFTA’s protest letter alleges the Evers administration clearly intends to award the multi-year contract to “an entity that does not have the on-the-ground capacity of staff and knowledge of program needs to provide YoungStar Program services in Wisconsin’s unique child care environment and includes unquestionable acceptance of responses that do not fully answer the RFP questions posed.”

Shine officials did not return Wisconsin Spotlight’s requests for comment.

Troubled past

Not noted in the protest letter is the troubled public service record of Shine’s president, Reggie Bicha.

After leaving DCF in 2011, Bicha led the Department of Human Services chief under Colorado Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper. In 2015, nearly 90 of Colorado’s 100 lawmakers demanded the Democrat governor sack leadership at DHS, which oversees child welfare, youth prisons and mental institutions. The legislators cited “disturbing issues” at facilities, according to a letter obtained by the The Denver Post. Among the allegations, the letter cited overmedication of foster children and abuse of people with disabilities.

“The governor had received another letter April 30 from the state’s network of mental health clinics complaining about unresponsiveness and a lack of transparency from Bicha’s office,” the Post reported.

The letter of no confidence was an “unprecedented” move.

Bicha was accused of neutralizing, obstructing and limiting the state’s Child Protection Ombudsmen’s authority, “sweeping investigative reports under the rug,” Miller Hudson wrote in a piece for Colorado Politics headlined, “Reggie Bicha: Warlock for the cheesehead coven at DHS.” It was titled as such because of Bicha’s proclivity for bringing over his old pals from Wisconsin’s DCF to work in Colorado Health Services. In so doing, Hudson reported, Bicha bent the state’s personnel rules.

Shine’s CEO, coincidentally, is Henry Wilde, Bicha’s former deputy secretary and administration of Wisconsin’s Division of Early Care and Education.

Bicha expressed contrition at the time, saying the Colorado lawmakers’ letter of no confidence from the lawmakers got his attention. Hickenlooper stood by his man.

Now the early learning support company Bicha leads is on the cusp of winning a state contract to direct a program that directly impacts Wisconsin’s most precious asset: its youngest children. If the review upholds Shine’s proposal, it would begin what could amount to a five-year contract as soon as July 1.

Jacque said Bicha’s issues in Colorado and the bi-partisan concerns of lawmakers there should “trouble every Wisconsin legislator.”

“I think this is a very scary time for child care in Wisconsin, given the enormity of everything they’ve had to deal with. This is one more bit of uncertainty,” the senator said, noting the hit child care providers have taken over the pandemic.

“This clearly raises questions as to political cronyism,” Jacque said of the complaints surrounding the contract award process. “Was this in the best interest of Wisconsin child care?”

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