Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office
Conservation crew clearing trails

Access to Opportunity: Our Shared Challenge

Beginning in 2015, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi led a community conversation to ensure that each one of the over half-million citizens living in the county has the same opportunity to succeed. Dane County’s dedication to this effort is even stronger as we move into 2020.

We have an amazing quality of life in Dane County. Madison and surrounding areas are consistently ranked as premier communities in which to work, play and raise a family. Recent ratings include:

  • One of the Best Small Cities in America: National Geographic, January 2018
  • #3 Top 100 Best Places to Live:, February 2019
  • Most Educated City in Wisconsin:, July 2018

Although we enjoy many successes, we can strive to do better together and address our shared challenges.

The County Executive recognizes that the quickest, most reliable vehicle out of poverty and toward upward mobility is acquiring and maintaining a family sustaining job. His plan focuses on breaking down barriers on the path to gainful employment.

When we ensure that barriers to employment are broken down for everyone, we automatically impact racial disparities. Sadly, the highest rates of poverty in the county are experienced by those who represent racial minorities.

Latino Community Leaders

Access to Opportunity: Our Shared Solution

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s comprehensive plan for reducing poverty and better ensuring opportunity and success for all includes:

  • Funding a successful program to help kids afford to take driver's education under a partnership between Dane County, area school districts, and the local Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA). Access to transportation is integral to obtaining employment.
  • Providing $20,000 towards eliminating wait lists for the successful “Driver’s License Recovery Program" conducted by the YWCA. This program helps eligible participants to have their licenses re-instated, and navigate an otherwise complicated process to regain the ability to legally drive and get to work.

People re-entering society after conviction and incarceration face a unique set of barriers that make it extremely difficult to achieve success outside of prison. Over ¾ of these inmates will be returning to the communities from which they originated. Challenges such as lack of affordable housing, access to mental health care and other support services, and employment make it difficult for many of these individuals to successfully reintegrate back into the community and avoid recidivism. In addition, addressing challenges early on is an effective strategy in preventing people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. To address these barriers, County Executive Parisi has:

  • Provided $500,000 toward re-entry housing and has contracted with a non-profit partner who is responsible for facility staffing and case management in an effort to successfully integrate offenders back into the community after serving their sentences.
  • Created a Dane County re-entry work group consisting of staff from the Department of Human Services and the Sheriff’s Office to coordinate services for those leaving jail, re-entering the workforce, and seeking stable, affordable housing. The County Executive’s Office convened the first meeting in the spring of 2016 with the goal of streamlining services to reduce recidivism.
  • Requested that Dane County communities and employers adopt a “Ban the Box” policy similar to Dane County and the City of Madison in order to prevent employers from discriminating based on acts that occurred many years prior.
  • Asked that Dane County law enforcement agencies voluntarily track traffic stop data contacts to monitor for disproportionate policing.
  • Directed Dane County Human Services to develop a plan to assess all Juvenile Delinquency referrals for dyslexia. In response, WILD – a local Dyslexia services provider – conducted a screen of several young people held in the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center. Dyslexia is a highly underreported problem that leads to poor educational outcomes, disruptive behaviors, and oftentimes entrance into the criminal justice system.
  • Funded a comprehensive review of the Dane County area’s overall mental health delivery system – both public and private – which will assess strengths, weaknesses and gaps and make recommendations on how mental health providers in Dane County can most effectively improve services.
  • Expanded the successful school-based mental health program started in the 2014 budget – also known as Building Bridges—to eleven school districts.

Gainful employment is the most effective vehicle out of poverty and towards upward mobility. All efforts to achieve prosperity for all must begin with access to a family-sustaining job. The County Executive’s efforts in this area have been included:

  • Creating a new partnership with Orchard Ridge Church, Commonwealth Development, and Dane County government to help get 100 people into transitional jobs. Working through Dane County’s popular Joining Forces for Families sites on the southwest side. This effort provides job training and temporary employment to those seeking job experience.
  • Brought WRPT/BIG STEP Program, modeled off of the successful program in Milwaukee, to Dane County. Supported by public, private, and philanthropic investments, BIG STEP’s mission is to assist economically disadvantaged minorities, women, and youth to develop the skills needed to participate meaningfully in the workforce, and share in the area economy. In accomplishing this, BIG STEP is also ensuring that member companies have the skilled workers needed to prosper and grow in a competitive global economy.

Dane County can lead by example in efforts to reduce inequities and break down barriers to employment. Dane County conducted an extensive internal analysis to identify areas for improvement around hiring practices, contracting, and service provision. County Executive Parisi has:

  • Requested that the “Dane County Racial Equity and Social Justice” group evaluate and recommend changes for current county hiring processes, rules, and regulations that may represent barriers to diversifying the county workforce.
  • Identified apprenticeship opportunities in County government to help workers gain skills and certifications, such as training to receive commercial driver's licenses, helpful to them in securing gainful employment. Currently, Dane County also offers valuable internship opportunities through the Boys and Girls Club and the Simpson Street Free Press.
  • Requested Dane County’s 26 cities and villages review municipal ordinances and modify fines and forfeitures for non-violent offenses. In 2015, the City of Fitchburg charged $1,000 for a simple marijuana possession ticket with over $300.00 in court fees. Left unpaid by families struggling with poverty, these fines can escalate and result in further barriers to maintaining gainful employment—including keeping or earning a driver’s license.