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Texas is facing a child care crisis. More than 30 groups are asking lawmakers to do more.

A child care room at the Goodwill Excel Center.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A child care room at the Goodwill Excel Center.

Thirty-two groups sent a letter to Texas lawmakers on Monday urging them to increase state funding for child care. The state has lost more than a fourth of its child care programs since 2020.

Thirty-two organizations are urging the Texas Legislature to increase state funding for child care to help providers stay open and keep costs down for families.

The nonprofits and early education advocates sent a letter Monday to the Budget Conference Committee, which is made up of members of the Texas Senate and House. The committee hammers out the details for the final version of the state’s next two-year budget.

“So far, the Legislature has failed to provide any new funding to make sure that high-quality child care stays open for working parents," said David Feigen, the director of early learning policy at Texans Care for Children, one of the groups that sent the letter. "That's really disappointing because the Legislature needs to deliver the funding to stave off this crisis.”

Feigen pointed out that Texas has lost a lot of child care providers since the beginning of the pandemic. There are 27% fewer programs operating in the state in 2023 than there were in 2020, the letter says. More programs could shut down because federal pandemic relief funding expires next year. The Texas Workforce Commission has used billions in federal relief money to help child care providers stay open over the last several years.

“When federal relief funding expires, programs will need to decide whether to raise costs on parents or cut staff or ultimately close for good,” Feigen said. “None of those are good options.”

The best option, Feigen said, is for lawmakers to increase state funding for child care by $2.29 billion. He said advocates, child care providers and business leaders came up with that figure by calculating what it would cost to continue to provide grants launched during the pandemic as well as the cost of giving child care educators retention bonuses.

Texans Care for Children has advocated for the continuation of grants to help child care programs cover fixed costs, such as rent and utilities. The state made these types of stabilization grants available in 2021 using money from the federal CARES Act. More than 9,500 child care providers applied for and received the grants.

Texans Care for Children would also like that proposed funding to be used for stipends to recruit and retain child care educators who, on average, make $12 per hour in Texas with few or no benefits. Feigen said child care staff should make at least $15 per hour.

“To do that, though, [child care providers] need more stable funding coming in from the state because they can't charge parents any more than parents are already paying,” he said. “The average parent pays $18,000 a year on child care if they have two kids.”

Feigen said that while there has been a lot of focus during this legislative session on the K-12 teacher shortage, the same attention isn’t given to a similar crisis in child care. For too long, he said, Texas has relied on federal funding and philanthropy to support child care.

“Between the impacts of the pandemic and inflation and so many other challenges, our child care infrastructure can't go another day without the state establishing some sort of stake in this,” he said.

According to a survey the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children conducted in February, 44% of responding child care programs said they may close within the next year after federal relief funding runs out.

“When those programs close down, a lot of parents simply can't go to work or they have to leave their children in child care situations that don't give them the attention they need during this really critical age for brain development,” Feigen said.

The last day of the 88th legislative session in Texas is May 29. The budget is the one bill lawmakers must pass.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Becky Fogel is the newscast host and producer for “Texas Standard.” She came to the show from Science Friday in New York where she produced segments on zombie microbiomes and sneaker technology. She got her start in radio at KWBU-FM in Waco and she’s happy to be back in the great state of Texas.