AUSTIN (KXAN) — In December 2019, after years of being a teacher and school counselor, Maria Dominguez decided to open Cielito Lindo, a home-based Spanish immersion child care center in north Austin.

“I decided it was time for me to follow my dream,” Dominguez said. “I had invested all my savings in opening my home-based care.”

Just months after Cielito Lindo opened, the COVID-19 pandemic started and Dominquez said she was in a state of unknown until she was able to get assistance through the child care federal relief fund.

Dominguez told KXAN the relief fund not only helped her pay rent, bills, and teacher salaries, but it also allowed her, for the first time, to pay herself for all the work she was doing.

With assistance from the federal relief fund, Dominquez said she was able to staff three full-time caregivers and had 15 children enrolled with more on a waiting list.

Image of Maria Dominguez teaching children at her home-based Spanish immersion preschool Cielito Lindo. (Courtesy: Maria Dominguez)

However, when Dominguez learned earlier this year that the last of the federal funds providing Cielito Lindo the financial stability to continue operating were ending, she was faced with a difficult decision.

“I needed to make a decision whether or not I was going to stay open, or I was going to close. It had been very hard to find quality educators and staff,” Dominguez said. “I really didn’t want to close I really didn’t want to.”

As a parent of two with no more financial assistance, Dominguez said it financially “wasn’t working out” so she had to shut down her home-based child care center.

KXAN spoke to Cody Summerville, executive director of the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children or TXAEYC, the largest nonprofit membership organization for early childhood professionals, according to Summerville, who said closures such as Cielito Lindo are likely to continue happening as child care facilities use the last of its federal funding.

Survey portrays future of Texas’ child care

In August 2023, TXAEYC conducted a survey to learn how the ending of the federal relief funding was going to affect Texas’ child care.

“We wanted to start to gauge how many closures could we anticipate in the coming months, two years, and start to get ahead of it, we need our policymakers to implement solutions to prevent mass closures,” Summerville said.

According to Summerville, the survey yielded over 1800 responses from licensed child care facilities, which revealed teacher shortages, an unproportionate supply of child care in relationship to the population of children, referred to as a “child care desert,” and an alarming amount of potential child care operations closing in the near future as financial assistance comes to an end.

According to the survey:

  • 26% of child care programs reported they are likely to close
  • 31% of child care programs reported they are likely to stay open without additional funding
  • 43% were unsure if they will close or not

“They are closing, we’re not seeing mass closures right now, we’re going to see a trickle of closures over the next month, few months to a year,” Summerville said.

With the “looming” future of child care across the state, KXAN looked at several datasets from Texas’ Health and Human Services to learn more about what child care looks like in Central Texas.

Data: Child care in Central Texas

According to data from the Texas Health and Human Services, the population of children under the age of 13 in Central Texas has increased every year from 2012 to 2022, while the number of child care operations has continued to decrease nearly every year during the same timeframe.

In the 10 years from 2012 to 2022, as the population of children has continued to increase, the number of child care operations has significantly dropped.

Source: Texas Health and Human Services

According to the data, over 800 child care operations in Central Texas have voluntarily closed in Central Texas since 2018, and would have provided child care access to nearly 27,000 children.

In Travis County alone, the population of children under the age of 13 reached its 10-year high at more than 232,000, according to HHS data.

Currently, HHS data of active licensed child care operations in Travis County shows a capacity of under 59,000.

“This does not exist in every state, it doesn’t exist in every country, and we have to recognize that this just shouldn’t be our normal way of operating and that we can do better as a state and take care of our young children and families,” Summerville said.

Last Thursday, Austin City Council conducted a public hearing to consider an ordinance amending City Code Title 25 related to definitions and regulations applicable to and triggered by day care, child care, and adult care services.

According to City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes (District 2), who introduced the item in January of this year, the amended ordinance would:

  • Reduce zoning barriers to opening new and expanding existing child care centers
  • Establish a grant program to secure new centers in child care deserts
  • Loosen parking restrictions to ensure more space is used for child care services

The proposed permitting would increase land for child care services by 255%, according to the City of Austin Housing and Planning presentation introduced by Fuentes.

Image of proposed land permitting that would increase the accessibility of commercial child care services in Austin. Map from City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes’ presentation.

Additionally, this past regular session lawmakers voted to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to provide tax relief for child care centers. 

Child advocates said lawmakers also need to hear from those impacted so they can better understand the struggles among families looking for affordable programs.