Written by Jacob Westjohn, Program Coordinator, C@R

The Children At Risk team is incredibly grateful to all of the community members who shared their perspectives and expertise with us during the Texas Tour. These events are a valuable opportunity to discuss the needs of children and families across our broad, diverse state, and to begin to discuss potential policy solutions. Below are some of the major themes we heard. 

Reimbursement Rates 

Child Care providers throughout the state, expressed concern with the need for increased reimbursement rates when serving children from low-income families.  The reimbursement rates provided by the Texas Workforce Commission for child care services for low-income families are set at 75% of the Market Rate Survey, which collects the established rates of child care providers from across the state. These established rates reflect the amount child care providers are charging families, largely influenced by what families can afford, rather than the true cost of providing high-quality care which includes compensation for a qualified early childhood workforce. The difference between the reimbursement rates and true cost of care is even greater when child care providers, typically in low-income communities, established rates are even lower than the reimbursement rates. Currently, TWC reimburses at the lowest rate, leaving many child care providers struggling to keep their doors open. Communities throughout the Tour echoed that this is not sustainable, limiting the number of children providers are choosing to serve and contributing to the growing waitlist across the state, which hovers near 100,000 working parents in Texas. 

Children with Special Needs 

Concerns regarding the lack of support for children with special needs were common throughout our 2024 Virtual Spring Texas Tours. We continue to hear child care providers and stakeholders advocate about the increased number of special needs children in their communities. They echoed the sentiments heard from our In-Person Fall Texas Tours, as the pandemic’s effects continue to be felt on our children developmentally, both socially and emotionally.1  

As the current staffing shortages persist in the child care industry, several stakeholders maintained the importance of finding supplemental funding to provide professional development for their teachers to support ALL children in Texas. However, it’s important to also recognize the incredible work communities are doing across Texas for children with special needs. Despite the struggles, we heard from several partners about the additional local supports being provided to further assist children with special needs find quality, accessible child care. 

Professional Development 

Professional Development was routinely mentioned in our conversations with communities, both in terms of retaining staff and in finding new staff. Most partners in our conversations across the state have shared their community has a waitlist, whilst child care programs have empty, unused classrooms because of the lack of staffing. Wage competition remains fierce throughout the state, particularly among “border” communities, specifically near the Texas/New Mexico and Texas/Arkansas borders, where child care educators are paid an increased wage across state or country lines. 

We’ve heard several more rural communities voice their concerns on the lack of professional development in their communities, both in terms of content and accessibility. We consistently heard from rural communities about the lack of awareness of the professional development resources available to them, despite child care owners actively searching for more opportunities for their staff. Two programs highlighted from providers and stakeholders were the “Early Learning” CTE Program of Study, offering CDA accreditation to high school students, and the Early Education Apprenticeship Program. It’s important to continue uplifting programs that are actively improving the child care workforce, as an exploration of further investment into programs like these could be beneficial for child care educators in Texas. 

Parent Education 

Communities across the state elevated the importance of parent education related to the child care industry. Child care providers understood the value in the parent relationship and educating the parent about the child care system. By providing parents with detailed information about licensing, staff qualifications, the importance of early childhood education, and how the child care ecosystem functions in Texas, providers help build a foundation of trust and collaboration.  

This education also helps parents navigate the often-complex subsidy programs and understand the funding and operational challenges that providers face. Community voices ultimately agreed that better parent education leads to a more supportive and engaged community where the needs of children and families are adequately met, and providers can advocate more effectively for necessary changes and support within the industry.