AUSTIN (KXAN) — Leaders from the City of Austin and Travis County are set to discuss updated numbers on how much they’ve invested into early childhood centers.
Right now, the city is investing more than $19 million in a total of 22 early childhood service programs, according to a meeting document.
But nine of those programs are federally funded, with the money set to run out this fall or at the end of next year.
“We really need to be finding stable dollars to take over in the next couple of years when our ARPA money runs out,” said City Council Member Alison Alter.
Alter said she’s trying to find that funding now, and hopes to have updates later this year.
It comes as people in Austin are already struggling to find the childcare they need.
“We have close to 200 people on our waiting list. And we’ll probably have about 14 openings for next year,” said Dawn Leach, manager of Austin Community College’s Children’s Lab School.
The school only serves 44 children, giving priority to the 7702 zip code.
“It’s hard to tell families who are looking for childcare, how challenging it is to find it,” Leach said.
The city has highlighted childcare since at least 2017, when council members passed a resolution directing staff to come up with some solutions.
The next year, ideas to expand early childhood care included partnering with Austin ISD, which has been done.
“We’re using the school district spaces, and those are an extremely cost effective way for us to assist in meeting some of the early childhood needs,” Alter explained.
Another 2018 action item was to increase zoning categories for childcare facilities.
That finally came this year, in a resolution sponsored by City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes and co-sponsored by Alter.
“We initiated some amendments that will decrease expenses and reduce barriers for childcare operators,” Alter said. “One of the things that we did in that is make it so that you can have the opportunity to open a childcare in more zoning categories.”
In 2018, city council members also wanted to include childcare centers in city-owned and leased facilities.
KXAN asked Austin Public Health, the agency that oversees those, what progress has been made but have not yet heard back.
At last check in April of 2022, the agency said they had one child care center at Bergstrom Tech Center and were working on another in the Dove Springs neighborhood.
Alter said the city has also invested federal funds into the childcare workforce, which Leach said we need more of, especially from the state.
“The median pay still continues to hover around $12 an hour. And that is not a living wage,” Leach said.
She and Alter also agree that more work needs to be done to especially expand care options for infants to three-year-olds.
“It’s more expensive to serve infants and toddlers. And so many programs balance their budget by serving more preschool children and school aged children than they do infants and toddlers,” Leach explained.
“We have a lot of children from zero to three that are not receiving care, not receiving education, we have kids who are entering kindergarten who are not ready to learn,” Alter said.
“We don’t have enough spaces for our Pre-K4 program. And we certainly need to build out our Pre-K3,” Alter added.