Childcare in Texas: Affordable childcare is understaffed due to COVID-19

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — For the past two years, COVID-19 has been sweeping families in the Houston area, and it seems relief for those with young children will not come anytime soon. There is a shortage of early childhood care in Texas, which can have a significant impact on the workforce.

Experts from the non-profit organization Children at Risk held a virtual summit on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the challenges the workforce will face.

Educators work with children between the ages of zero and five years. In Texas, the minimum wage for the job is $10.15 an hour.

Proponents say the pay is so inadequate that it ranks in the bottom 2% of the country’s occupations.

“The way we’re funding K-12 is exactly how we were supposed to be funding pre-kindergarten. Science tells us that 85% of brain development occurs by age three,” said Jim Spurlino, National Advisory Board Member for the PN3 (Prenatal-to-3) Policy Impact Center.

“I wish it wasn’t called child care because a lot of officials just don’t get it. They think childcare is babysitting. They don’t understand that childcare is early education.”

Kim Kofron, director of early childhood care education at Children at Risk, says brain development prepares them for a love of learning at an early age. “The brain development that occurs in young children in this age group prepares them for a lifelong love of learning. It prepares their brains and bodies to successfully enter kindergarten, graduate high school, and college.”

Even before the pandemic, there was a lack of affordable childcare, Kofron said. Almost half of Texas families found themselves in a childcare desert, meaning a minimum of three children is needed for a licensed childcare spot.

After 2020, the number of childcare facilities dropped to 16%. In 2022, childcare staff in Texas will be at just 84% of pre-pandemic levels.

Advocates say the average cost of childcare for infants in Texas is $10,826, slightly higher than the average cost of public college tuition. Summit panelists said early childhood educators should be better paid.
“A talented teacher can walk into a fast food or grocery store and make twice as much as they would at the center,” Kofron said. “This choice seems pretty easy.”

In an interview with Kofron, ABC13 asked if the low-wage issue is a facility concern or a situation that goes deeper.

“Yes, it’s a deeper rooted problem. We can’t have 200 babies like we can with college students. The ratio has to be lower to care and do a quality job,” Kofron said. “The way our funding system works, it really weighs on the backs of our parents who pay. If you’re a low-income family, you’re hit even harder. It’s this vicious circle.”

As a result, according to experts, several parents are struggling to re-enter the labor market and continue their education. Kofron says this problem has broader economic implications.

“Texas is also losing money. We are cutting ourselves off by not allowing all of our employees to go back to work,” Kofron said.

Childcare costs are another dilemma families face. Many cannot afford it and are unable to return to the labor market. In comparison, this is not necessarily a women’s problem; Women have been disproportionately affected, said Leila Melendez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Borderplex.

“Women are more likely to work in service jobs that cannot be done remotely. Women bear the brunt of childcare and are usually the first in the household to solve these childcare needs. They handle a lot of cases themselves instead of working,” Melendez said. The state has seen a 36 percent increase in parents retiring from the workforce because of childcare issues.”

Last March, the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, which provided partial county and state funding for distribution to day care centers.

On Wednesday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted that funds are still available to keep child care centers afloat during this time of need.

But experts say this is only a temporary patch and we need to start thinking about what needs to be done to work towards a long-term fix.

“This is probably mainly about taxes and public order. Things like tax credits for dependent care accounts, a tax credit for employer child care contributions, raising pre-tax contribution caps, and advocating the extension of the expanded child tax credit that recently expired,” Spurling said. “Congress got it “Failed to renew it when it was shown to reduce child poverty by nearly 30 percent. We can’t let our officials down if they have a good idea and then don’t renew it.”

“We need to change our mindset that care isn’t just for families. It really is for all of us. If we have children in quality centers, they will be better workers. When they get into that workforce in 20 years, they’re going to take care of us when we’re in nursing homes,” Kofron said. “I’m hoping for more conversation and work down the aisle. This is a bipartisan issue. It’s affecting families on both sides.”

For more on this story, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All rights reserved. Childcare in Texas: Affordable childcare is understaffed due to COVID-19

Dais Johnston

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