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Public Health Committee hears update on $11 million child care investment

Monday, April 18, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Staff members leading city and county efforts to expand child care services gave City Council’s Public Health Committee an update last Wednesday on the impacts of last year’s budget cycle. 

Last summer, Council approved the investment of $11 million in federal grant money into child care services as part of its 2021-22 budget. Child care scholarship programs, essential worker hazard pay and public pre-K programs will all benefit from the influx of funding, which includes an additional $4.6 million from Travis County.

“Child care is the single greatest cost to families in Austin behind housing,” Success by Six Coalition Vice President Cathy McHorse said. “Access to child care can enable families to work, and stay in their homes safely.” 

Around 1,700 children are currently on the waitlist to receive subsidized care through Workforce Solutions Capital Area, which channels federal, state and local funding into child care programs for low to moderate-income families in Austin. Staff hopes that the $1,965,104 in city funding will help to address this gap in resources, allowing for 300 more children to move into subsidized care in the coming months. Additionally, Travis County plans to invest $906,399 of its own budget into the program.

Existing full-day pre-K programs in AISD are slated to receive $902,075 in funding pending Council approval in May. Dual-language pre-K programs in Del Valle, which currently serve around 53 students, are set to receive $750,000, along with $250,000 from Travis County.

American Rescue Plan Act dollars will also go toward service options outside of public school classrooms via a “mixed delivery system” that supports partnering businesses in the child care sector. Funding in the amount of $500,000 from the city of Austin and $250,000 from Travis County will fund home-based child care options, and an additional $750,000 will prop up management infrastructure, allowing the city to support 40 child care centers with administrative services such as human resources support, accounting and navigating regulatory processes. 

United Way for Greater Austin will also continue using partnerships with pre-K providers to leverage state funding from the Texas Workforce Commission, bolstered by $713,000 in funding approved by Council this past February.

“Through this model, United Way serves as a shared services hub,” McHorse said. “Our model has been an example for the state of Texas, who has now invested $26 million in staffing across the state to try and grow this model of pre-K partnerships.”

Austin Public Health reported that staffing shortages continue to strain the child care system in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 73 percent of providers reporting vacancies and over half limiting hours of operation as a result. APH hopes that improved pay and subsidized higher-education programs will help to reinvigorate this critical workforce, with $765,945 toward essential worker pay and $157,000 awarded via scholarship to furthering the education of incoming child care service providers.

Council members expressed interest in exploring dedicated revenue sources that would provide more consistent funding to the child care sector in the years to come.

“I would say we could look to San Antonio as an example,” McHorse said. “They’ve laid out a process where they’ve implemented an 1/8-cent sales tax … we would just need to do some fiscal mapping and cost modeling to determine what those potential funding sources could be.” 

Those interested in a more comprehensive breakdown of ARPA child care investments can read more here.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been changed since publication to correct the amount of sales tax San Antonio has dedicated to Pre-K funding.

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