With limited childcare options during the pandemic, lawmakers look to use $1.1 billion to create sweeping change

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Early childhood education advocates are increasing their push for sweeping reform following a pandemic which has crippled the industry and highlighted flaws in the supply of quality options for families across the state of Texas.

According to data from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, 25% of all child care centers closed during the first five months of the pandemic. That increased the number of child care deserts, or pockets of the state without quality childcare options for families, by 50%.

The advocacy group Children at Risk says this disproportionately affects communities of color, where child care centers were twice as likely to face extended closures.

“The pandemic has really shone a light on the weak infrastructure of our childcare industry. Realizing that many of our childcare providers are struggling to keep their doors open before the pandemic, during the pandemic and will continue to afterwards if we don’t put more supports in to help childcare providers keep their doors open,” said Mandi Kimball, the Vice President of Children at Risk.

A panel of education experts from across the state met virtually on Monday to share suggestions in creating a more sustainable, high-quality early childhood education industry in Texas.

Some improvements lawmakers are considering include a push to strengthen the workforce, paying teachers more and providing ways for them to professionally develop, which will reduce turnover and provide stability to children, and thus, better outcomes.

Another suggestion to ensure consistent, quality options for parents to choose from is a bill filed by Rep. James Talarico that would require all daycares to be certified through the Texas Rising Star program. That is a voluntary rating system for centers participating in the Texas Workforce Commission’s subsidized childcare program. It offers three levels of certification to encourage higher levels of quality.

Currently only 20% of childcare providers are participating in Texas Rising Star.

Texas will get $1.1 billion in supplemental aid from the federal government in response to the pandemic. It’s earmarked for education reform, but advocates say Texas will need to find some long-term solutions rather than simply using it for one-time allocations.

“How can we make an investment that really strengthens the early childhood education system and makes a difference for children? What can we do to really move the needle for our children and families?” Kimball said. “We have a real opportunity to make smart investments to strengthen our early education system that in turn, supports our families and has a positive impact on the Texas economy.”

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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