In Texas, two-thirds of families have all parents in the household working, and therefore need reliable child care. However, nearly half of Texans live in a child care desert, and only 7% of eligible children under five are receiving child care scholarships. This is resulting in an estimated $9B+ annual loss to the state’s economy due to parents missing work and employment disruptions. Now, thanks to a federal grant awarding the state $48 million in dedicated early childhood funding, there should be a conversation about why this is true in Texas - and what can be done to fix it.
The Early Childhood Education Crisis in Texas
The lack of access to affordable, high-quality early learning opportunities has serious implications for our youngest Texans and their futures, especially in light of the learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, only half of students are entering kindergarten ready and only 58% of students are meeting grade level expectations in 3rd grade reading and just 50% in math. These are not isolated outcomes, but are reflective of broader issues at play – a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center ranked Texas’ early childhood education system 47th in the nation.
PDG Grant Offers an Opportunity
Texas is one of many states facing challenges in early childhood education access and quality. Recognizing this, the federal government this year awarded 21 states a grant to analyze need and coordinate agencies to address structural issues to improve outcomes. The Preschool Development Birth to Five (PDG 0-5) Grant will act as seed money to provide Texas $16 million per year for a 3-year grant cycle to improve the coordination and administration of early childhood programming.
Building off the work of the Early Childhood Inter-Agency Workgroup and the Texas Early Learning Council, Texas plans to use this grant for projects including:
- Reports and Studies - Texas will conduct an updated needs assessment to serve as the basis for a new strategic plan, outlining gaps to be addressed in the PDG and beyond. Previous needs assessments and plans have helped direct funding and advocacy efforts.
- Connect Families to Services and Engage Families as Leaders - The state will use PDG funds to better leverage Parent Advisory Councils, offer local grants for programs that support family engagement, and further develop the earlychildhood.texas.gov website to offer parents an eligibility screener tool for ECE programs.
- Support Local Systems Building - Texas plans to invest in its Help Me Grow network to make it easier for families to find the services they need for their young children in more parts of the state.
- Expand Access to High Quality Programs - To improve ECE quality, Texas will continue funding navigators to bolster the supply of child care in rural communities, increase resources to ECE staff on developmental screeners as well as infant and early childhood mental health, and scale use of research-based classroom assessments and coaching that lead to increased quality interactions and student growth (e.g., CLASS).
- Strengthen and Build the Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce - Texas will fund several activities to bolster the pipeline of high-quality early childhood educators as well as support them in their practice once in the classroom.
- Develop Statewide Integrated Data System - Agencies will continue their work to create a cross-program Early Childhood Integrated Data System, ultimately helping stakeholders to answer fundamental data questions, drive continuous improvement, and make informed-decisions that are impossible in the currently fragmented system.
This grant is a starting point, but sufficiently solving the early childhood crisis requires concerted effort by many – including the Texas Legislature. One step the legislators could take is ensuring Local Workforce Development Boards have the standards and supports needed to provide our youngest learners with access to high-quality early learning opportunities. Additionally, by streamlining eligibility processes for PreK Partnerships between school systems and child care, legislators can soften the ground for forward momentum as the PDG gets underway.
To learn more about this work in Texas, visit: https://www.twc.texas.gov/prog.... The Texas Workforce Commission and the Early Childhood Inter-Agency Workgroup will be looking to engage stakeholders by providing updates and collecting feedback throughout the grant cycle.