Child care workers in Tarrant County are getting a raise
Advocates say the United States is facing a crisis in child care, with the pandemic worsening a lack of access to quality early education programs. A coalition of groups in Tarrant County is trying to change that.
Child Care Associates, Tarrant County and Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County have partnered to raise the salary of child care workers by $250 a month. It’s funded through the American Recovery Plan Act, using $2 million dollars earmarked for “child care quality.”
Child care was inaccessible for many families long before the pandemic, but it’s only gotten worse since. Kara Waddell, president and CEO of Child Care Associates, said 10% of Texas Rising Star programs for child care and early education have closed.
Nationally, the Center for American Progress estimates 4.5 million child care spots will be lost during the pandemic.
The centers that haven’t closed are facing staffing shortages.
“This turnover of early educators and child care educators is particularly tumultuous for young children, and that’s what we’re hoping to slow down,” Waddell said.
Raising wages is a great way to encourage employees to stay, but Waddell said the extra costs usually get passed on to parents.
“We already know from parents, they can’t afford a dollar more,” she said. “So we’ve wanted to offset those wages to keep workers who are committed to working in the early childhood profession.
“Families need child care to return to work,” Waddell said. “The child, as well as the family, depends on having that stable, trained early educator that really helps the parent feel like they're doing well by their child while also doing well by their household income.”
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said there’s more work to be done, though.
“Taking this $2 million, it’s a start,” she said. “By no means is this something that’s sustainable.”
There’s only enough money to dole out those extra payments for 6 months, but Parker said the county’s looking for more permanent solutions.
One option would be sustainability grants available next year through the Texas Workforce Commission. Another would be more federal funding.
Waddell and Parker said they’ve also both been waiting to see what happens with the Build Back Better Act making its way through Congress. If passed, it would fund universal pre-kindergarten and set a fixed rate for low- and median-income families for early education programs.
Waddell said it’s still uncertain if Texas will reap the benefits of those measures.
“States get to choose if they are going to accept this funding and the benefits that come from that, as well as the responsibilities that come with it,” she said. “Or they can pass.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Parker said Fort Worth will continue to build on previous efforts to expand access to child care in Tarrant County.
She’s working with Arlington Mayor Jim Ross and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley to form the Blue Ribbon Action Committee on Child Care.
The group of business, philanthropic and community leaders will work with Child Care Associates to help guide investment opportunities.
Parker said a big focus for her is on improving the quality of children’s early education.
“That’s one thing that’s kind of frustrating to me with this national debate,” she said. “I haven’t heard quality said a lot. And I know personally, I’m going to make sure this panel is thinking about that. We want child care centers that are preparing our students to go onto [kindergarten] and successfully beyond.”
Members of the Blue Ribbon Action Committee on Child Care will be selected by county leaders in the coming weeks.
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