Here’s what Austin is exploring to improve childcare options

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city council has a lot to consider about how to improve child care in the city after Austin Public Health shared a report filled with recommendations Friday.

This comes as childcare costs are an increasingly large expense for families, and childcare workers in Austin earn an average of $24,360, according to TXP, Inc., which conducted a study for the city exploring the relationship between childcare and economic development.

“It is no secret that, while overall incomes are rising in Austin, affordability is diminishing rapidly for those who cannot command a modern-economy salary. Affordable, high-quality childcare is a piece of the broader puzzle that is especially important as the City has shifted significant economic development focus toward enabling middle-skill jobs,” TXP, Inc. wrote.

TXP said Austin “lags behind other comparably sized cities in investments in early childhood.” Last year Austin and Travis County invested $220 per child under 6-years-old from low-income households. That’s much less than San Antonio ($419); Denver, Colorado ($935), Portland, Oregon ($965); and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ($1,141).

In April, the city council approved a resolution asking City Manager Spencer Cronk to implement any policies in the High-Quality Child Care and Pre-K 3 report that don’t require council to act. Now, Austin Public Health shared a report documenting its progress on numerous recommendations.

Council can act now on three recommendations in the report:

  • Exploring current fee schedule and possible waivers for expenses related to opening, expanding or operating childcare centers. Council would need to work with the Development Services Department and the Planning and Zoning Department.
  • Use state funding to provide $2,500 to 16 childcare teachers in classrooms participating in Pre-K partnerships between school districts and childcare centers.
  • Cover the gap in payment for childcare providers reimbursed by subsidies. Staff recommends only doing this for infants, which would cost more than $1 million. Reimbursing all children could cost more than $16 million.

The city is also exploring creating city-owned or leased childcare facilities, including using underutilized Parks and Recreation Department spaces. Austin Public Health says it will have more details on this proposal by early fall.

Other recommendations include developing a policy where any time the city is considering leasing or developing space to add an option and price estimate for an affordable childcare center. It should especially be considered for future projects to “house a significant number such as the space for the Development Services Department on the Highland Mall campus, the future headquarters for Austin Energy, the future headquarters for the Austin Police Department and any other large facilities.” The city council doesn’t need to take action on this recommendation, and an update to the form departments use to request to renovate or add space is in progress.

There is also a proposal to set aside funding to invest in one-time startup costs for new Pre-K classrooms, discussing using AISD’s underutilized classrooms for childcare for city and AISD employees and community members.

TXP also provided its own recommendations, including:

  • Adding childcare incentives into Austin’s economic development program
  • Providing incentives for landlords or developers to make spaces more affordable for childcare centers
  • Subsidize the cost of childcare for graduates of city-funded job training programs
  • Explore options for long-term funding to subsidize costs for low and middle-income families
  • Inventory not-for-profit spaces for possible locations for childcare facilities
  • Encourage the development of childcare internships with local colleges and universities
  • Add city staff to focus on these efforts

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