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.