Author Archives: Julieta Rhea

Texas child care standards are too low and the Legislature must step in

Recent news reports sadly reinforce concerns about the alarming challenges in keeping Texas children safe in child care. We have seen countless heartbreaking stories in North Texas and around the state about injuries to young children in child care including the tragic, yet entirely preventable, deaths of our youngest and most vulnerable Texans.

The disturbing reality is that Texas child care standards are too low, challenges in obtaining data are too high, and the need to enact change is too important to delay.

Consider these Texas facts:

  • More than 1 million young Texans are in child care.
  • In the previous 10 years, nearly 90 young Texans lost their lives as a result of abuse or neglect while in unlicensed or licensed care.
  • Texas’ standards for teacher-to-child ratios are among the worst in the country despite efforts to change.
  • Wages for child care educators in Texas are exceedingly low, with 54 percent of these educators drawing on public assistance.
  • Texas Rising Star is the state’s quality rating system, but participation is voluntary and limited to only child care subsidy providers. Only 8.5 percent of licensed child care providers in Texas have TRS ratings to guide parents in locating quality care.

The state can play a critical role in supporting transparency and encouraging quality improvement by collecting and sharing data and by establishing and enforcing standards that protect children. And it should provide Texas families with ready access to information about providers.

Parents with young children must have child care in order to work, and it’s reasonable for them to expect that their children will be cared for and educated while in child care. Parents should be able to trust that their child care provider is operating under state regulations designed to support child development and safety.

As stakeholders in the field of early education and child care in Texas, we support efforts to promote quality child care programs and to help parents understand what quality programs look like. We applaud the steps the Texas Workforce Commission has taken to use the significant increase in federal funds to enhance child care in Texas, and we believe there are some other necessary, near-term improvements.

With the 86th Texas Legislature convening soon, we encourage lawmakers to consider the following initiatives:

  • Expand participation in Texas Rising Star by allowing participation by all licensed child care programs and requiring participation by all providers in the child care subsidy program.
  • Collect data and review Texas’ current teacher-child ratios.
  • Expand and incent Pre-K partnerships between schools and the highest-rated child care centers.
  • Build consumer awareness of child care quality by developing a statewide website and app for parents to locate quality child care, Pre-K, Head Start and Early Head Start.

Now is the time to improve child care for Texas families. We don’t want to read one more devastating story — we want to work with our policymakers to make the right adjustments to the child care system.

Tori Mannes is chief executive of ChildCareGroup in Dallas and a member of the Dallas Early Education Alliance.

Kara Waddell is chief executive of Child Care Associates in Fort Worth and a member of the Early Learning Alliance.

Companies and Child Care: It’s Time to Invest

As I conclude my career of decades of leadership positions for a Fortune 500 company, becoming forthright about the need for employers to invest in child care has surprised many. After all, I have not typically been an executive quick to offer public support for social causes.  Rather, I believe in a return on investment approach in managing public companies, which is why I am calling on companies to reconsider investing in child care for their parenting employees.

Unemployment is at historic lows and the corporate need for a trained, committed workforce is at a premium. Savvy employers are responding by re-examining their approaches to employment and benefits to both attract and retain talent. Millennials are clear about what they value:  83 percent of millennials will leave one job for another with stronger family policies and better family support.

Millennials and families with young children are concerned because the situation is bleak for families with young children. “High-quality child care is out of reach for working families,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. The average American couple spends 25.6 percent of net income on child care, and that percentage soars to 52.7 percent for single parents. In Texas, families may spend more on child care than they will on public college tuition for those same children.

Why business should get involved

Traditionally, many businesses may have viewed this problem as a “personal issue” for families or assumed there must be publicly-funded support to help out families who really need it. However, the U.S. doesn’t have a public system designed to universally support families with their child care needs. A recent Pew Research Center study ranks the U.S. last among nations in government-supported time-off for new parents. While no federal support exists, more U.S. companies are beginning to step in and create improved policies and cultures that support leave for parents with newborns.

The U.S. government is beginning to respond as well, represented by the significant 2017 federal budget increase in the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF). The fund helps lower-income working parents offset the cost of child care. Despite this historic increase, the actual needs dwarf the increase.

In the Fort Worth area, the CCDF increase will enable our community to assist only about 10 percent of the families who economically qualify for child care assistance. Waiting lists are so long for the assistance funding that families who sign up may actually send their children to kindergarten before they are ever pulled from the waiting list.

It is clear that the near-term offers no likelihood of sufficient public funding to meet this child care need for working parents. Companies whose success depends upon attracting, retaining, and supporting a qualified workforce need to re-examine their human resources benefits and how they support child care to keep and support their talent. It’s a good return on investment.

Companies whose success depends upon attracting, retaining, and supporting a qualified workforce need to re-examine their human resources benefits and how they support child care to keep and support their talent.

A parent who is supported with high-quality, reliable child care is able to commit to one’s profession, stay with the job longer, and miss fewer workdays. Estimates place U.S. businesses loss at $3 billion annually due to employee absenteeism resulting from a breakdown in child care coverage. Company-supported child care options simply help parents work consistently. I’ve heard from parents that they are proud to be connected to a company that helps with their child care needs and understands their need for work-life-family balance.

The motherhood penalty

The case for businesses to invest in child care is even more convincing concerning women in the workplace. Child care fundamentally supports the retention and advancement of women in the workplace, especially during critical years for tracking into senior and executive management roles. Women are still the primary gender opting out of work for a period of time to provide care for infants and young children.

For some families, it is a “first choice” decision to have a parent at home to support young children. However, for many other families, women are feeling forced to decide to stay at home, citing the high cost and lack of quality child care as the primary reason. And “opting out” has impacted women. Businesses have unintentionally left women with what could be called “motherhood penalties,” such as losing out on important salary increases and career progressions.

Businesses today understand the critical competitive edge of diverse teams with women and men together leading towards innovation and profitability. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in management ranks in companies across the U.S. Smart companies are re-evaluating how they support career tracks and employment for women with family benefits that include child care and paid family leave.

Some will point out that these arguments have tended to assume a two-parent household. The 2017 U.S. Census indicates 12 million single-parent households with children under 18 years old and 80 percent of these households are led by single women. The child care needs of working single parents who lead a household are nearly insurmountable without significant assistance from businesses, government, or one’s family.

The child care needs of working single parents who lead a household are nearly insurmountable without significant assistance from businesses, government, or one’s family.

The corporate community also recognizes the need to invest in their future workforce by investing in education.

Many corporate social responsibility plans include significant investments in local schools. However, these investments tend to focus on middle and high school programming or university scholarships versus recognizing that the social skills and educational outcomes needed for tomorrow begin in the young years with children ages zero to three. The Federal Reserve has been arguing for investment in comprehensive early education and care services for young children for well over a decade.

Arthur J. Rolnick, formerly of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, writes that, “Careful academic research demonstrates that tax dollars spent on early childhood development provide extraordinary returns compared with investments in the public, and even private, sector. The potential return from a focused, high-quality early childhood development program is as high as 16 percent per year.”

Companies investing in quality child care for their employees reap immediate benefits in their current workforce and are investing upstream in tomorrow’s workforce. And not all child care is alike. Companies should help employees offset the cost of quality child care that supports children’s development, not mere babysitting.

How companies can help meet child care needs

Large and medium-size companies can help address these realities by first meeting with employees who have young children and understand their needs, costs, and support requirements that may help them excel in the workplace and at home. And companies, once your employees’ needs are understood, consider your options:

  • Employer-provided child care is tax free to the employee, much like health insurance is tax free. Providing child care for your employee is a game-changing benefit that increases retention and commitment to your company team.
  • Consider offering a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA) or a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) for your employees and help contribute to that plan (up to allowable limits of $5,000 per year). Employees can then use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care expenses, possibly saving employees up to 30 percent in child care costs.
  • Review policies that support your parenting employees. That includes paid parental leave and flexible return policies for a parent who has taken time away from work upon the birth of a child. Women employees who are mothering young children especially benefit from flexible work schedules and an active human resources team that is working to support her transition back to work.
  • On-site child care or contracting with nearby quality child care programs are highly desired options by families. Many companies have on-site gyms, eateries, or health clinics, so perhaps it is time to look (again) at the benefit of on-site child care. When companies provide child care, employee absences decrease by up to 30 percent and job turnover declines by as much as 60 percent.
  • Ask your local Chamber of Commerce for guidance in understanding options and helping a human resources team evaluate the best options for a company’s situation.
  • For small businesses, consider flextime and telecommuting not as perks but as business strategies that may help make a small business more attractive than a rigid corporate environment. Examine roles in the business to determine if there is an existing role or combination of roles that could specifically attract or support a working parent. Parents who find the “right job” that aligns with their lifestyle and family tend to be loyal and stay in roles longer. 

How the U.S. government can help

At a national level, Washington should increase the usefulness of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Specifically, Congress should increase the limits to align with average actual costs as well as index the limits to rise with inflation. It has been over 17 years since the limits were raised in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Lawmakers should consider making this credit available to low- and middle-income families as a kind of Advanced Refundable Tax Credit.

Congress should increase the limits to align with average actual costs as well as index the limits to rise with inflation. It has been over 17 years since the limits were raised in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

In summary, policymakers should expand the tax credit’s limits, provide the credit in advance to families to help cover expenses as they are being incurred, and refund the credit to families who owe no income tax (or refund the difference between credit and liability). The U.S. government should also increase the limit for Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (DCFSA) to align with the average cost of child care full-time. This means allowing DCFSAs to adjust with inflation each year as with other FSAs and considering an increase in the amount companies are allowed to invest in their employees’ accounts.

Lastly, if the federal government is interested in companies investing more in child care supports for working families, policymakers should consider creative additional corporate tax incentives to “nudge” corporate executives to move on this opportunity quickly.

The time is ripe for nudging companies to take a lead in supporting their parenting employees with child care. Leading companies are leaning into these new benefits that support families while supporting their bottom line.

An Essay by Matthew K. Rose, Executive Chairman of BNSF Railway Company and Chair of the Board of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank

The author would like to credit Kara Waddell, president and chief executive officer of Child Care Associates, with assistance on this article.

Texas legislators should improve child care systems

Recent news reports have shed light on the alarming challenges in keeping Texas children safe in child care.

We have seen heartbreaking stories in North Texas and around the state about injuries to young children in child care, including the tragic, yet entirely preventable, deaths of our youngest and most vulnerable Texans. The disturbing reality is that Texas child care standards are too low, challenges in obtaining data are too high, and the need to enact change is too important to delay.

Consider these Texas facts:

  • Over 1 million young Texans are in child care.
  • In the previous 10 years, nearly 90 young Texans have tragically lost their lives as a result of abuse or neglect while in unlicensed or licensed care.
  • Texas’ standards for teacher-to-child ratios are among the worst in the country, despite efforts to enact needed change.
  • Wages for child care educators in Texas are exceedingly low, with 54 percent of these educators drawing on public assistance.
  • Texas Rising Star (TRS) is the state’s quality rating system, but participation is voluntary and limited to only child care subsidy providers. Only 8.5 percent of licensed child care providers in Texas are TRS-star rated, leaving parents without a reasonable guide in locating quality care.

The state can play a critical role in supporting transparency and encouraging quality improvement by collecting and sharing relevant data and by establishing and enforcing standards that protect the health, safety and well-being of children. And it should provide Texas families with ready access to information about the safety and quality of providers.

Parents with young children must have child care in order to work and provide for their families, and it’s reasonable for them to expect their children will be nurtured, cared for and educated, especially within those facilities receiving state funding. Parents should be able to trust that their child care provider is operating under state regulations designed to support child development and safety.

As stakeholders and providers in the field of early education and child care in Texas, we support efforts to promote, support and sustain quality child care programs and to help parents understand what quality programs look like, and how to find and access the right program. We applaud the steps the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has taken to use the significant increase in federal funds in FY2018 toward quality enhancement in child care in Texas, and we believe there are some other necessary, near-term improvements.

With the 86th Texas Legislature convening soon, we encourage lawmakers to consider the following initiatives to further improve the safety and well-being of our tiniest Texans:

  • Expand participation in Texas Rising Star by incenting participation by all licensed child care programs and requiring participation by all providers in the child care subsidy program.
  • Collect data and review Texas’ current teacher-child ratios.
  • Expand and incent Pre-K partnerships between schools and TRS 3- and 4-star child care centers.
  • Build consumer awareness in finding quality early education by developing a statewide website and app for parents to locate quality child care, Pre-K, Head Start and Early Head Start, all in one place.

Now is the time to work together to improve child care for Texas families. We don’t want to read one more devastating story – we want to work with our policy makers to make the right adjustments to the child care system.

Kara Waddell is the president and CEO of Child Care Associates in Fort Worth. Tori Mannes is the president of Child Care Group in Dallas. This op-ed is endorsed by the Early Learning Alliance, with its 52-member organizations and partners in Tarrant County, and the Dallas Early Education Alliance, with its 50 supporting organizations.
Read more here: https://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/other-voices/article223101145.html#storylink=cpy

For more information, visit childcareassociates.org. To schedule an interview with a CCA representative regarding this news, contact ([email protected], 817-838-0055).

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Without early childhood education, the Texas miracle won’t last

The “Texas Miracle” has become a common description for the state’s vibrant economy and successes. While we have much to celebrate, meeting the needs of our current workforce and providing our children with a solid educational foundation are critical to maintaining opportunity and potential in the State of Texas.

Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution that will create the best opportunity for educational success, while solving our most difficult workforce challenges — access to quality early education for all children. When you provide access to quality early childhood education across a community, you are overcoming both workforce and educational obstacles.

Employers face numerous challenges to recruit, train and retain top talent. One of the primary barriers for any parent in the workforce is lack of access to high-quality child care, which is an early learning program. High-quality child care can cost about $1,000 a month — if you can find it. This burdens families across the income spectrum, especially for those with multiple young children. A family with two children under the age of five could pay up to 30 percent of their household income for child care.

Improving a child’s life in the earliest years with early education is one of the smartest investments we can make for our youngest Texans. A child’s zip code should never be a predictor of future success; providing educational opportunity at the earliest age possible ensures we enhance every child’s future. We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5, but our education pipeline is still not prioritizing education at this critical time from age 0 to 5. Throughout Texas, the lack of access to quality early childhood education comes at a significant cost to our students. During the 2016-2017 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported only 59 percent of our children were kindergarten-ready. We are forcing many of our children to play catch-up before they even get started.

The best opportunity to develop a thriving workforce and build an educational pipeline  starts with using Texas cities as laboratories for change in the early learning space. To promote this, Fort Worth is hosting teams from 20 of the largest cities in Texas. “Momentum 2018: Texas City Early Learning Summit” brings together city leaders from nonprofits, school districts, municipal government and philanthropy. This summit is about partnering with families for stronger children, a thriving workforce and improved educational outcomes.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to early education. We know best practices and innovative initiatives are happening in our major Texas cities and some of the smaller communities. We see a focus on improving the quality of early learning programs, extending access to more families, making the whole system more efficient and giving parents better skills as their children’s first and most important teachers.

Important efforts throughout Texas are enhancing quality early child care. In San Antonio, the collaborative PREK4SA, started in 2011 by then-Mayor Julian Castro, is now serving 25 percent of San Antonio’s four-year-olds in a high-quality full-day program. Fort Worth ISD is recognizing the value of universal free full-day pre-kindergarten by combining limited state funding and voter-approved bond funds, grants and a generous donation from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

These are just two examples of numerous positive stories we see across the state. We want to build on the momentum in our communities to develop a master plan for education that begins the moment children are born. We will turn to the Texas Legislature in 2019, supporting important statewide efforts to prioritize early education. This includes support for Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to prioritize high-quality pre-kindergarten, and advocating to improve access to quality child care.

If you are worried about the workforce of tomorrow, look no further than at the infants and toddlers of today. The most efficient and cost-effective workforce training is to enhance and strengthen programs that serve our youngest children, birth to age five. There is no more important priority in Texas than the future of our children, and we are rolling up our sleeves to create the strongest educational foundation for our youngest Texans.

Besty Price – Fort Worth Mayor

Kara Waddell – CEO-President, Child Care Associates

Libby Doggett – Former deputy assistant secretary of Policy and Early Learning, U.S. Department of Education