Policy Recommendations for Enriching Early Learning Experiences
The Dashboard data make clear that too few Texas children benefit from enriching early learning experiences in the first five years of life, whether through child care, public pre-k, or Early Head Start. Children need access to high-quality programs run by skilled teachers, located near where families live, and that offer families affordable choices. Yet, the existing child care market is unsustainable, with programs too financially vulnerable to charge families less, staff often underpaid, families unable to pay more, and long waitlists that leave parents in desperate situations. State policymakers play a crucial role in child care through existing responsibilities, including:
- Overseeing minimum standards for safety and quality through Child Care Licensing;
- Allocating federal funds to help working families access and afford quality early education and supporting quality improvement strategies through the Texas Workforce Commission, and
- Overseeing the state’s pre-k program through the Texas Education Agency
Policymakers can make progress towards a future where early childhood education is quality, affordable, and accessible to families. To accomplish this, they also must ensure that the educators who perform this essential work are compensated sufficiently to cover the rising cost of living and for programs to recruit and retain their staff.
Leaders can ensure more Texas children benefit from enriching early learning experiences by pursuing the recommendations outlined below, which cover three broad strategies:
Strengthening classroom quality and improving teacher-child interactions:
- Increase the participation of child care providers in the state’s quality rating and improvement system, called Texas Rising Star.
- Expand the use of evidence-based program monitoring and assessment tools in child care and public pre-k and provide more targeted coaching.
- Ensure early educators have the tools and training to improve early childhood mental health and support children’s social-emotional health.
- Decrease class sizes and improve teacher-child ratios in pre-k and child care.
- Improve the early childhood data system so that state leaders and communities can better understand the availability and effectiveness of the state’s child care programs
Improving access to quality child care, especially for infants and toddlers:
- Improve financial reimbursement rates for child care providers accepting subsidies and providing quality care to serve more children effectively
- Begin to provide bedrock state funding to help offset programs’ fixed costs, including educator wages, and increase the number of high-quality child care providers, especially in designated child care deserts.
- Through funding and administrative strategies, support a “mixed delivery system” in which more parents can access quality early learning in more places, including public pre-k, child care centers, home-based programs, and Head Start.
- Ease administrative burdens for eligible families to enroll in pre-k, child care subsidies, and other early learning programs.
- Provide sufficient funding to cap families’ child care expenditures at a reasonable limit that will allow Texans to stay in the workforce rather than foregoing employment because of the high costs of child care.
Bolstering the early childhood workforce:
- Increase compensation of educators working in child care programs to parity with early childhood educators working in public schools with similar qualifications.
- Make it easier for educators to attain credentials and degrees by streamlining course credit transferability and providing scholarships and professional development.