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, Head Start, 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 pre-k, child care, and other early learning experiences 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, 
  • Overseeing the state’s pre-k program through the Texas Education Agency, and
  • Supporting the Texas Head Start Collaborative to facilitate coordination among Head Start agencies and programs.

In the Legislature, Texas communities, and states throughout the nation, policymakers are increasingly considering ways to take additional steps to address child care and other early learning priorities.

Fortunately, policymakers have taken recent steps to ensure young children in Texas benefit from enriching early learning experiences. After lawmakers made progress during the 2019 and 2021 sessions to support full-day pre-k, child care, and emergent bilingual students, the following bills passed in the 2023 legislative session  (Learn more here.):

  • HB 1615 codified the Texas Workforce Commission’s current program for supporting and expanding pre-k partnerships between child care providers and local school districts. It also added a representative of the child care workforce to Local Workforce Development Boards, which oversee child care policy and funding.
  • SB 1145 provided a financial boost to some child care providers through a property tax cut. It allowed municipalities or counties to reduce or exempt licensed child care facilities from property taxes collected by the taxing entity if at least 20% of their students receive child care subsidies. This was approved by voters in November 2023. Several cities and counties have already taken the step to give tax relief to child care providers, including Travis, Denton, Dallas, and Aransas, among others.

However, there is much more work to do. Policymakers can make progress towards a future where early childhood education is high-quality, affordable, and accessible to families by pursuing the recommendations outlined below, which cover three broad strategies.

Strengthening classroom quality and improve 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 child care and public pre-k.
  • 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.

Improve access to high-quality early learning programs, especially for infants and toddlers:

  • Improve financial reimbursement rates for child care providers accepting subsidies and providing quality care to serve more children effectively.
  • Ensure school districts have sufficient funding to provide full-day pre-k, improve quality, and enroll as many eligible students as possible. 
  • Begin to provide bedrock state funding to help offset child care 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 currently 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.

Bolster 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.
  • Ensure a sufficient number of early educators are credentialed and trained to support the school readiness of emergent bilingual children and children with disabilities.