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Study shows learning challenges in Fort Worth child care centers

A group of seven children gather around a teacher holding a smaller child in a daycare facility.
Jacob Sanchez
/
Fort Worth Report
Children gather around their teacher at King Kids Learning Center on Aug. 3, 2023, in Fort Worth.

Workforce challenges are impacting outcomes for young children enrolled in Fort Worth’s early education programs, according to a new report from Southern Methodist University.

The Fort Worth City Council recently received the report detailing the academic progress of children receiving child care services. The nonprofit organization Child Care Associates commissioned the study.

Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa described the results as a mixed bag.

Roughly 9 in 10 child care programs that meet the state’s Texas Rising Star standards are hitting high-quality thresholds for emotional and behavioral support for preschoolers and toddlers, according to the report.

However, only about half of preschoolers, ages 3 and 4, receive high-quality instructional support. For toddlers, engaged support for learning is around 9%.

“While we have much to celebrate in the quality of our child care programs in Fort Worth, we can also acknowledge that we have room for improvement, particularly in respect to workforce,” Costa told the City Council during a June 4 meeting. “The post-COVID workforce crisis has affected all kinds of employers but perhaps child care programs to an exceptional degree.”

Early childhood education is an industry plagued with low wages and skyrocketing costs.

The Economic Policy Institute found child care costs for one infant are nearly 16% of a median family’s income in Texas. The average cost of child care for a 4-year-old Texan is $7,062 a year, or $589 every month. The average cost for an infant is $9,324, or $777 per month.

Child care workers in Texas earn an annual average wage of $25,910, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A family of four falls under the poverty line if it makes under $30,000, according to the federal government.

Child Care Associates and local governments have worked in recent years to find solutions.

In late 2021, Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County and Child Care Associates used $2 million in federal funds to raise wages for early educators by about $250 monthly for six months.

Mayor Mattie Parker, Arlington Mayor Jim Ross and then-Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley created the Blue Ribbon Action Committee on Child Care in 2022. The committee guided the spending of tens of millions of federal stimulus dollars, including funds toconstruct child care buildings.

The latest solution came in the form of a property tax exemption. In May, the Fort Worth City Council approved an exemption for child care providers who own their property after voters approved a state constitutional amendment in November 2023.

During the child care discussion, Parker also brought up that the municipal government is working to ensure Fort Worth ISD, the city’s largest school district, sets up partnerships with child care providers. The Texas Education Agency-approved policy allows districts and providers to receive additional dollars in early childhood classrooms.

It’s a complicated model, but thanks to Child Care Associates and others, I think we’re on the right track,” Parker said, bringing up an early education event that featured the state’s top education leaders.

“This is not something we control,” Parker said, emphasizing the city’s limited power in education. “But it is absolutely something that impacts the daily lives of residents who live here and has a propensity to be incredibly long-lasting positively for our citizens.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or @_jacob_sanchez. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.