This Texas Tribune panel took place on March 20, 2024 and discussed the issue of childcare policy. The panel includes moderator Karen Brooks Harper, a Texas Tribune reporter, Steven Pedigo, Director of the LBJ Urban Lab, Liza Gomez, Vice President of United Way of San Antonio and Bexar Country, Cristina Collazo, Founder and Executive Director of Todos Juntos Learning Center, and Dr. Emily Williams Knight, President and CEO of Texas Restaurant Association and Education Foundation. The discussion included the issues surrounding childcare as it currently exists in Texas, how it affects families, policy ideas to resolve these issues, and questions from the public. A recording of this meeting can be found here.


This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight the various topics taken up. It is not a verbatim transcript of the discussions but is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer.


Item 1: Introduction to Childcare Issue

Karen Brooks Harper, Moderator & Texas Tribune Reporter – Stephen, can you give us a snapshot of the problem we are looking at here?

  • Steven Pedigo, Director UT Austin LBJ School Urban Lab – Many states have thought about the way they have framed childcare broadly around both an economic development challenge and an education challenge; in Texas, we frame the issue narrowly only through the lens of economic development; in fact, childcare dollars are run through the TWC; the childcare issue should be considered an economic challenge but also a workforce and education opportunity; there are 3 parts to this issue: (1) expensive (average family spends $9,500 on childcare annually – 14% of Texas median household income), (2) difficult to find – supply is low, (3) and workforce challenge (average Texas childcare worker makes $12/hour).
  • Brooks Harper – Dr. Knight, I understand that Texas businesses lose $23 billion in costs associated with lack of adequate childcare every year; is this mainly a staffing issue? Or what are the other challenges?
  • Emily Williams Knight, President and CEO of Texas Restaurant Association and Education Foundation – In Texas, restaurants are the largest private employer, 1.4 million in the industry; restaurants are a critical feeding infrastructure in the state; restaurants that are not staffed and can’t feed put yet another stress on communities; by 2030, we need another 225,000 jobs; we can’t get people to work when 54% of workforce is female, 60% under the age of 35; restaurant employees working night shifts face an issue because no nighttime childcare; need to voice one set of policy recommendations for Texas legislature


Brooks Harper – Liza, can you talk to me about some of the inequities that grow larger as the childcare issue worsens?

  • Liza Gomez, Vice President of Ready Children, United Way of San Antonio and Bexar Country – United Way focuses on not only accessibility to childcare but the quality of education provided by childcare; United Way found that, in their most vulnerable communities, access to not available nor affordable and quality is poor; children are not getting the start to life they deserve in some communities; we must seek to achieve to access and quality in childcare are one in the same


Brooks Harper – Cristina, what does Todos Juntos do? And what challenges are families facing which force them to come to you?

  • Christina Collazo, Founder and Executive Director of Todos Juntos Learning Center – Todos Juntos is a no-cost, dual generation learning center, meaning they work with parents and children from same family at same time; last year, 85% of families came to Todos Juntos from zip codes with a childcare desert; driving up to an hour to get to Todos Juntos; children and their mothers come to Todos Juntos to learn English and prepare for school or the workforce; Todos Juntos prepares kids for 1-4 years and brings in partners to provide resources for after Todos Juntos; funded by local family foundations, individual donors, corporate partners, and most recently, government funding


Brooks Harper – Last year, the program that provided federal funding to childcare centers ended; Steven, how did this happen?

  • Pedigo – Post-pandemic, economic development and business communities recognized the important of childcare; there was a great effort to put American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars toward childcare; Texas received about $4.4 billion of those dollars, impacting about 11,000 facilities and about 835,000 children; those dollars expired in September 2023; childcare has to be a priority for the next legislature; if not, this lack of funding problem will be exacerbated


Item 2: Lives of Affected Families & Resolving Policies

Brooks Harper – Dr. Knight, can you paint a picture of the lives of the affected restaurant workers for me?

  • Williams Knight – Many times, restaurant workers are forced to bring their kids to work to sit in a booth and color; more and more, we are seeing restaurant works alternate shifts and act as a childcare for one another


Brooks Harper – How are these policies to solve this issue coming along?

  • Williams Knight – We are forming a group of business leaders in a movement called Employers for Childcare to look at the ideas and policies of other states regarding funding, incentives, and tax credits, and then go to the legislature to present one multi-year plan; also thinking about how we get more teachers qualified quicker


Karen Brooks Harper – Is the business community prepared to get behind an issue that is not necessarily a tax incentive, for example?

  • Williams Knight – Yes; in order to solve a workforce issue, we need to solve this childcare issue


Brooks Harper – What are some of the economic policies relating to childcare that the legislature could focus on?

  • Pedigo – First, Change Texas Rising Star (TRS) policy to allow childcare systems that want to open a new facility or simply change an address to not have to start from the approval system process from the very beginning, this impacts reimbursement rates; can incentivize more investments into childcare; second, like Kentucky policy, reimbursing childcare up to a certain percent for employees whose income is below the median state wage; third, city governments can also focus on this issue, like how businesses can match childcare
  • Williams Knight – There is also small points of licensing and regulation at the state and local level we could address, like improving when new childcare systems can market new facilities; current policy is until 30 days before, should be earlier; little hinderances like marketing funding, when you can set out an open sign, etc. should be addressed; these are easy fixes
  • Pedigo – We should be open to different forms of childcare delivery, like nonprofit models, home-based models, etc.; should look into policies which would offer investments to such innovative practices


Brooks Harper – Liza, you are currently advocating for a rise in reimbursement rates, right?

  • Gomez – Yes, reimbursement rates that the state provides back to childcare providers to help supplement funding and help parents afford childcare; reimbursement rates change depending on the quality of the childcare center as assessed by TRS (ranges from 2 star to 4 star, highest level being 4 star); the higher the certification level, the higher the reimbursement rates; but it costs money to become higher quality and maintain high quality; this is a complex issue because the state funding for reimbursements is not meeting the true cost of quality; at United Way, this is a policy we are pushing; we are also providing childcare centers coaches and curriculum to help them reach high TRS level


Brooks Harper – Christina, tell me about your emphasis on proper pay for your employees at Todos Juntos is important for high quality.

  • Collazo – Subsidies are helpful, but it takes a while to qualify and apply for that; this is another small policy change we can make; even though we are a no-cost center, we compensate them well-above the state average
  • Pedigo – If you ask childcare providers what their number one issue is, is it quality workforce; we cannot think of childcare workers as temporary and entry-based; must reimagine workforce development in this space; how you create career pathways in this space is an important issue; to that point, recently, TWC included childcare centers in their paid training program for employees


Brooks Harper – Liza, what is the impact of higher pay on these childcare workers?

  • Gomez – Must pay at least a livable wage to retain and recruit this workforce field; right now, the average is $12 in Texas; at United Way, we conducted a project where we improved the wages of a childcare center to $15-18 an hour with a turnover rate of 116% and saw turnover rate drop to 30% and wellbeing of teachers increased; in turn, this childcare center was able to apply for a TRS assessment much sooner than expected because of a culture change in the center; teachers also began to feel more like a steady career as opposed to a temporary worker; now expanding this project


Item 3: Public Comment

  • How do childcare teachers make $12/hour while parents are paying close to $9,500 on average for childcare? Where is this money going?
    • Gomez – Tuition is going to staff; many times, multiple staff members are required for a single class; on top of that, they provide meals, snacks, books, and a safe playground; another consideration is whether own rents or owns the building; inflation has affected every sector, including this one
    • Collazo – At Todos Juntos, early childhood education consumes a third of our budget, and 85% of such is salaries and benefits for our workers
    • Williams Knight – Incentive to have teachers to cover an increasing amount of children is not there from the start, as an education costs $50,000 while they are only being paid $12/hour
  • Liza, how did your project affect the center’s profit margins?
    • Gomez – With the teacher wage increase, parents became impressed by the quality and spread word to other families to send their children there; childcare ended up having a waitlist of children; but, her revenue could only increase if she could hire more staff to accommodate these children on the waitlist; this is an important illustration of how the state or federal dollar can impact the model of childcare business
  • Where might these funding dollars within the state budget so that childcare centers can be profitable?
    • Pedigo – This issue has to be a priority going into session, especially as part of the education agenda, to force legislators to recognize this need for funding
  • What is the difference between daycare, early education, pre-K, and childcare terminology? More broadly, how important is childcare to a young child?
    • Collazo – Todos Juntos is not a daycare; we are an early learning center; it is a space to learn under curriculums; there are learning-based tools and interventions; really big focus on educational foundation to prepare for public school systems and beyond
    • Gomez – Daycare solicits a babysitter mentality; childcare is not daycare; there is a learning component and brain development in childcare; terminology should change from daycare to childcare centers or child development centers
    • Williams Knight – We need to realize that 90% of brain development occurs before the age of 5; if our education policies do not acknowledge this, we have failed; education starts at 0