Austin Steps Up Efforts to Improve Access to High-Quality Child Care

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In an effort to increase the number of high-quality child care slots available in the city, the Austin, Texas City Council passed a resolution that directs the city manager to review how service fees could be partially or fully waived for child care providers. These service fees include food service, environmental and fire inspections fees that act as barriers to opening, expanding and operating child care facilities.

The resolution stems from recommendations made by the Austin Public Health and Child Care Work Group. The group released a report last year that found that the City of Austin and Travis County do not have enough affordable, high-quality child care programs to meet the needs of the growing number of young children with working parents. The work group identified fees from multiple city departments and day care service zoning limitations as major barriers to opening, expanding and operating child care facilities.

The resolution, put forth by Councilmember Delia Garza, directs the city manager to work with various city departments and community partners to identify the current fee schedule and potential fee waivers that could be applied to expenses related to operating high-quality child care centers. The City Manager will also explore options for City Council consideration related to how fees for permits or inspections could be fully or partially waived if centers receive a quality rating through the National Association for the Education of Young Children or a 4-star rating from Texas Rising Star, the state’s quality rating and improvement system for early childhood programs.

At a press conference on the resolution, Mayor Steve Adler spoke about child care as an affordability issue in the city.

“We have an affordability crisis in our city… There are three main expenses for most families in this city and it is housing, transportation, and child care,” Mayor Adler said. “If we are going to do something about affordability in this city, then we need to be using as many different tools as we can, and today we are talking about one such tool.”

Councilmember Alison Alter noted the importance of access to high-quality child care on family-well-being.

“Whether or not you have access to quality child care impacts your quality of life. It provides people the freedom to join the workforce, and to earn the money that they need to provide for their families,” Alter said. “It’s also really important for peace of mind and quality of life. When you have access to quality child care, you can rest assured that your children are in good hands, your children can focus on the business of learning because they are in a safe place.”

The resolution builds on other work underway in Austin aimed at improving outcomes for children. The Austin Department of Public Health and the United Way for Greater Austin have partnered to provide free home visits for every child born in Austin and Travis County. The Texas Family Connects Initiative partners nurses with families with newborns to connect families with community resources, including high-quality child care. Texas Family Connects launched in in September, serves families with births at St. David’s Medical Center.

The initiative is one of the main priorities of Austin’s work as one of six cities in NLC’s Cities Supporting a Strong Prenatal to Age 3 Agenda project, part of a National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers funded by J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

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About the Author: Vera Feeny is an Associate for the Connecting Children to Nature and Early Childhood Success programs in the NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.