New Survey Shows Lack of State Funding for Child Care is Costing Texas Families

“We had to shut down the school due to a lack of funding.”

“Without grants, we had to bring on staff without experience and with lower pay…our quality is not the same and our staff is wearing down.”

“We are in a very stressful condition.”

The message from Texas child care providers could not be any clearer: due to a lack of public funding, providers are being pushed to the brink – and Texas families are paying the price.

A new survey released by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in February revealed that the child care crisis in Texas is worsening — and a lack of sustainable funding is the culprit.

High-quality child care helps parents provide their children with opportunities to learn, socialize with classmates, eat healthy foods, and build new skills during the first five years of life – a critical period for brain development. Decades of research demonstrate that young children with enriching early learning experiences, such as time in high-quality child care, are more likely to have the academic and social skills they need to be well-prepared for kindergarten. Working parents across the state also rely on high-quality child care programs so they can go to work, with the comfort of knowing their children are safe, supported, and learning.

However, because of a lack of adequate state and federal funding, child care programs are operating on barely sustainable margins, educators are paid about $12 per hour with little to no benefits, and parents are paying more than they can afford – with infant care costing more than in-state tuition for a four-year public college. In other words, parents can’t pay more, educators can’t make less, and programs are spending the little money they have to barely stay afloat. Without public funding, the math simply does not work.

The child care crisis went from bad to worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the latest survey from NAEYC shows that the problem in Texas continues to worsen in the absence of state funding.

Among 463 Texans who work in early childhood education programs:

  • 58 percent reported at least one child care program in their community closing over the last year.

Among 250 Texas child care directors who responded:

  • 51 percent reported that they had to raise tuition for families over the last 6 months.
  • 58 percent reported a staffing shortage.
  • 68 percent reported that, despite significant waitlists across the state, their program was under-enrolled relative to capacity. (Child care providers regularly report that this is primarily due to the shortage of educators).

With increased funding, programs could recruit and retain staff, lower costs on families, enroll more children, and improve the effectiveness of their programs. Many states have recently taken bold steps to provide new state funding to address the child care crisis.

  • Alabama increased funding for the state’s child care quality and improvement program by $30 million for fiscal year 2024, replacing COVID relief dollars.
  • New Mexico appropriated $97.8 million for child care assistance and increased funding for the state’s Early Childhood Trust Fund (which includes supports for early care and education programs) from $30 million to $150 million for fiscal year 2024.
  • Florida appropriated an increase of $100 million in their state budget to provide more working families access to child care.

In each of these states, lawmakers focused these additional resources on addressing the state’s child care subsidy/scholarship program, which helps low-income working families access child care. In Texas, which relies on federal funding to support the subsidy program, there is currently a waitlist of nearly 95,000 children due to a lack of state funds invested in it.

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers in Texas provided $35 million in child care funds at the request of the Texas Workforce Commission — a minimum required state match before Texas can access an additional $52 million in federal money that supports child care subsidy/scholarships. Unfortunately, unlike the states above, Texas declined to provide significant new state funding beyond the match for child care. However, lawmakers did take a positive step by passing SB 1145, resulting in Proposition 2, which voters overwhelmingly approved last November. This allows cities and counties to grant property tax exemptions to certain child care providers, which will provide some support to programs in areas that approve the exemption.

However, for Texas families and providers to feel relief from this crisis, it will take lawmakers from both parties working together to make sustainable investments that ensure child care is more affordable and accessible. Together, the Legislature can stave off these closures, keep costs from continuing to fall to families, and give more of our tiniest Texans access to the enriching early learning experiences they deserve.