Via: Dallas Morning News

By: Rebecca Acuna

City Council will vote on recommendation that child care facilities in neighborhoods operate by right

Few things positively impact the trajectory of a family more than a quality education, starting with early child care.

While ample data exists, I witnessed the positive impact of early enrichment programs in my life. Both my parents worked hard in hourly restaurant jobs. My sister and I were fortunate that they valued our education and that there were programs for children and parents that helped us achieve the American dream. That early investment put us on a path to success and today, we both work at multinational corporations.

This week, the Dallas City Council can support working families like mine and expand neighborhood child care through a simple zoning change.

Currently, facilities that care for 10 or fewer children can operate in neighborhoods. But child care facilities caring for more than 10 kids must apply for a specific-use permit, a process that can take up to 12 months. To increase access to child care, the City Plan Commission recommended that childcare facilities in neighborhoods operate by right, thus eliminating the bureaucratic permit. A final decision may come before the City Council this week.

A 2017 study by the Texas Education Agency found statistically significant improvement in both long- and short-term outcomes for children who attended early start programs. While quality child care can improve outcomes for children, it is also a jobs issue, allowing parents to join or remain in the workforce.

Among the many negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was a crumbling of the country’s childcare infrastructure. A 2022 study by the Texas Women’s Foundation noted nearly 30% of households that couldn’t find childcare arrangements had to cut work hours to care for their children.

Conversely, recent Child Care Group data on nearly 5,000 job-seeking parents from 10 Texas counties revealed that when they received financial childcare support, 71% found employment within three months. CCG data also shows that Dallas County families receiving these subsidies saw their income increase by 6% over the prior year.

Cassandra Durán is one of those success stories. Cassandra enrolled in CCG’s Early Head Start program with the help of a family navigator while expecting her daughter, Zyanya. Now, at three years old, Zyanya is hitting or exceeding all her educational milestones. Cassandra has also benefited. Since enrolling in the program, Cassandra ascended into a higher-paying job and was twice promoted.

To be sure, opening more facilities for children represents just one step. A multipronged approach to ensure families have access to child care includes improved quality, affordability and pay for providers.

A recent Texas law requires providers to meet Texas Rising Star quality standards if they want to receive childcare subsidies. In the past year, the number of TRS programs in Dallas County increased by 34%, resulting in more access to quality-rated programs. Further, the average monthly subsidy paid to providers has increased 13%, due to higher ratings and reimbursement rates.

With higher standards and accountability, quality should increase even as more centers open.

The Dallas City Council can increase childcare access by approving a zoning change, a small change that will make a big difference for Dallas.

Rebecca Acuña lives in Dallas. She chairs the Child Care Group board and serves on the Board of Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas.