Updated 07/30/2010 07:33 AM
Solutions for state's child care dilemma
Shortchanging Child Care (Part 5):
To view our videos, you need to
install Adobe Flash 9 or above. Install now.
Then come back here and refresh the page.
The last four parts of this series have examined problems in Texas' complex child care system, and in part five, we explore solutions.
Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition
President Kara Johnson said she has one.
"Every dollar that Austin taxpayers — Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, the valley — every dollar that they invest [in early childhood education], they get at least $3.50 back," she said.
Those numbers come from the findings of a study done by TECEC and the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M. The study says Texas should invest now in children, like 8-month-old Estella and 2-year-old Janessa, whose mother can't afford daycare on her own. Children who enter kindergarten behind their peers are at a greater risk for needing costly social services later in life.
"Savings are realized through fewer referrals to special education, fewer dropouts, fewer juvenile delinquents," Johnson said. "So we found we have a 350 percent return on our investment."
Putting more money into government supported child care would be logical, according to state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, but also impossible when the state faces a $17 billion budget gap, he said.
"I'm of the opinion that we can improve the system within the zero sum parameters of the budget we're dealing with now," he said.
A model for another solution may lie in North Carolina, a state with a nationally acclaimed child care system.
North Carolina has a strong emphasis on early childhood, according to Anna Carter, the deputy director of that state's Division of Child Development. Unlike Texas, with its five agencies overseeing various aspects of child care, North Carolina puts everything under one umbrella.
"The advantage is you can make sure the policies all line up," Carter said.
North Carolina also gives all of its licensed child care providers a one to five star rating. Parents can quickly see how many stars daycares have earned through the state's user-friendly website.
"As a consumer piece, it’s important for parents to know what they're getting for their children," Carter said.
Texas parents have a different, more stressful experience searching for child care. They rely on word of mouth or Google, many said. Few said they knew of Texas Rising Star, a government program that allows child care providers to request a star rating.
The Texas Workforce Commission oversees Texas Rising Star
, but because the state's child care search website
is run by another agency, the Department for Families and Protective Service, information about the star ratings is not included there.
In 2008, only 5 percent of licensed providers in Texas requested a rating. The participation rate is on the rise, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
"There needs to be strategy and communication among the different agencies at the table," Strama said.
State Rep. Mark Strama wants public input in crafting a child care reform bill before the next legislative session in January.
Rep. Mark Strama
Room E2.510, Capitol Extension
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 463-1199 Fax
Strama said he is researching possible solutions to Texas' child care dilemma, and writing a child care reform package for the next legislative session in January.
"What we know, bottom line, is this. A whole lot of children start kindergarten two years behind from the day they walk inside kindergarten," Strama said. "That's the challenge for the child care system in Texas."