Struggling child care centers look to city, businesses to help fix broken system

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is working to improve what it calls a “broken” child care system.

With care costing families too much and child care centers barely making enough to stay afloat, providers say young kids are caught in the middle of the issue.

“These small business owners can’t afford the skyrocketing rents to operate a business that isn’t making much money, especially those that are high quality and serving vulnerable children,” said Cathy McHorse, Vice President of United Way for Greater Austin’s Success by Six plan.

McHorse says this, in turn, drives costs up too high.

“And, unfortunately, those people who need it the most are unable to afford it,” McHorse said.

McHorse is working with the city on initiatives to get large companies, philanthropists and public money to fill in the gaps, like those at Sweet Briar Child Development Center.

“Historically, I’ve never experienced what I’m experiencing now, as far as the amount of effort and expense to try to recruit teachers or what I’m offering to pay teachers,” said Pat Smith, owner of Sweet Briar Child Development Center.

Sweet Briar has been in Smith’s family for 58 years. She says she’s struggled to find support and even converted her center into a non-profit for several years to try to help with funding.

“There were more grants for pets, animals and the homeless than there were for young children, if they were typically developing,” Smith said, adding that she’s since done away with the non-profit licensing.

City leaders are proposing tax incentives for developers that provide space for child care centers in multi-use projects. The city’s also looking at renting out some of its own empty spaces to child care centers at a discounted rate.

“When we can take advantage of space that already exists and move in a child care operator who can provide that high quality care, it alleviates that part of their cost burden, and then they can focus on compensating their staff at a living wage,” McHorse said.

Smith points out that it can also cost existing child care centers hundreds of thousands of dollars to add on extra space or nursery rooms, due to current zoning costs.

“I have made inquiries into adding on a relatively small 500-square-foot or so infant room, and it is just daunting.” Smith said.

The city’s looking into reducing and even waiving some of those fees to encourage current centers to expand.

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