Other Voices

Texas legislators should improve child care system

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Recent news reports have shed light on the alarming challenges in keeping Texas children safe in child care.

We have seen heartbreaking stories in North Texas and around the state about injuries to young children in child care, including the tragic, yet entirely preventable, deaths of our youngest and most vulnerable Texans. The disturbing reality is that Texas child care standards are too low, challenges in obtaining data are too high, and the need to enact change is too important to delay.

Consider these Texas facts:

  • Over 1 million young Texans are in child care.

  • In the previous 10 years, nearly 90 young Texans have tragically lost their lives as a result of abuse or neglect while in unlicensed or licensed care.

  • Texas’ standards for teacher-to-child ratios are among the worst in the country, despite efforts to enact needed change.

  • Wages for child care educators in Texas are exceedingly low, with 54 percent of these educators drawing on public assistance.

  • Texas Rising Star (TRS) is the state’s quality rating system, but participation is voluntary and limited to only child care subsidy providers. Only 8.5 percent of licensed child care providers in Texas are TRS-star rated, leaving parents without a reasonable guide in locating quality care.

The state can play a critical role in supporting transparency and encouraging quality improvement by collecting and sharing relevant data and by establishing and enforcing standards that protect the health, safety and well-being of children. And it should provide Texas families with ready access to information about the safety and quality of providers.

Parents with young children must have child care in order to work and provide for their families, and it’s reasonable for them to expect their children will be nurtured, cared for and educated, especially within those facilities receiving state funding. Parents should be able to trust that their child care provider is operating under state regulations designed to support child development and safety.

As stakeholders and providers in the field of early education and child care in Texas, we support efforts to promote, support and sustain quality child care programs and to help parents understand what quality programs look like, and how to find and access the right program. We applaud the steps the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has taken to use the significant increase in federal funds in FY2018 toward quality enhancement in child care in Texas, and we believe there are some other necessary, near-term improvements.

With the 86th Texas Legislature convening soon, we encourage lawmakers to consider the following initiatives to further improve the safety and well-being of our tiniest Texans:

  • Expand participation in Texas Rising Star by incenting participation by all licensed child care programs and requiring participation by all providers in the child care subsidy program.

  • Collect data and review Texas’ current teacher-child ratios.

  • Expand and incent Pre-K partnerships between schools and TRS 3- and 4-star child care centers.

  • Build consumer awareness in finding quality early education by developing a statewide website and app for parents to locate quality child care, Pre-K, Head Start and Early Head Start, all in one place.

Now is the time to work together to improve child care for Texas families. We don’t want to read one more devastating story – we want to work with our policy makers to make the right adjustments to the child care system.

Kara Waddell is the president and CEO of Child Care Associates in Fort Worth. Tori Mannes is the president of Child Care Group in Dallas. This op-ed is endorsed by the Early Learning Alliance, with its 52-member organizations and partners in Tarrant County, and the Dallas Early Education Alliance, with its 50 supporting organizations.

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