Bexar County and S.A. have a child care challenge

November 11, 2018

As Texans, we are proud of the work of San Antonio in creating and establishing Pre-K 4 SA. No other city so well understood, and then acted on, the crucial need to educate our youngest residents in preparation for the future.

However, we cannot claim victory and move on. The foundation of our children’s education does not begin at age 4. It starts much earlier. Early childhood education is a comprehensive approach that incorporates parents and quality child care providers at an early age. Child care is the true foundation for future success, and right now the foundation in Bexar County is weak.

It’s a two-generation issue. During the first few years of life, children’s brains are forming more than 1 million neural connections every second, building the foundation that impacts all future learning. The time of greatest brain-building occurs in babies and toddlers, and it slows noticeably by kindergarten. This brain-building is based primarily on quality interactions with caregivers.

In many ways, skilled, competent employees are the foundation of business. Many employees are parents, and businesses struggle when their employees cannot find affordable, stable child care options. Across the U.S., businesses lose $4.4 billion every year due to child care breakdowns among their employees.

There simply is not enough quality child care in San Antonio. Only 6 percent of all child care providers in Bexar County are certified as quality programs through Texas Rising Star, the state’s quality rating system for early childhood education programs. In Bexar County, there are over 23,000 children younger than 6 whose working parents do not have access to affordable, quality child care.

Broadly speaking, we must:

Establish a sound business model by coordinating services for child care providers so they can operate more efficiently. Many providers are small organizations, but most share similar costs, including staff, food purchasing/preparation, curriculum, payroll and more. By bringing child care providers together to share services, they can negotiate costs, save time and money, and reinvest to improve quality.

Strengthen partnerships. Pre-K 4 SA, school districts, child care providers, the city of San Antonio, Workforce Solutions Alamo and others provide professional development for teachers of young children. By working together, they can reduce costs and provide continuity for early-learning standards across all settings. This can also help child care teachers anticipate what school districts expect for school-readiness and school districts to get more exposure to child-development training.

Effectively engage and educate parents. Coordinating information and applications for parents receiving public services such as Head Start, Pre-K 4 SA, public school pre-K, and child care subsidies will increase parents’ understanding of options and help them make the best choices. On the program side, coordination helps administrators more efficiently spend money by coordinating waitlists and services.

Invest in a quality child care workforce. Child care teachers are often paid poverty wages, and are not required to have more than a high school diploma and minimal training. We must ensure child care teachers are adequately trained and compensated. Combining wage supplements or stipends with scholarship programs would also help these teachers build careers and reduce turnover.

Ensure child care teachers’ professional development is counting toward an early childhood credential or degree. This can help child care teachers affordably build their careers and stay in the child care field, which historically has higher rates of turnover than other low-wage industries. More qualified teachers also helps child care providers meet higher Texas Rising Star standards.

Access to quality, affordable child care is critical for working parents and for building the foundation of our future workforce.

To learn more about this issue, please stay tuned for the release of Children At Risk’s full report on the economic potential of quality child care, available at childrenatrisk.org/ece this month. The executive summary is available now. We ask all readers to use this information to encourage state and local leaders to act.

Dr. Bob Sanborn is the president and CEO of Children At Risk, a Texas-based advocacy and research group. Shay Everitt, who has a master’s in social work, is the director of Early Childhood Education Initiatives at the organization.

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