Group: City needs additional affordable child care

West

Education and business leaders said more access and attention to quality, affordable child care in Amarillo is essential to improving student outcomes and boosting the local workforce and economy.

 

Swaths of Potter and Randall counties are “child care deserts,” with inadequate access to subsidized health care for low-income families, according to Houston-based advocacy group Children at Risk.

The organization held a news conference Thursday in Amarillo, where it unveiled a map showing the availability of child care across the state and called for upping the standards and availability of state-subsidized child care.

Half of Amarillo children from low-income families with two working parents live in “deserts,” defined as having less than 330 seats in subsidized child care programs for every 1,000 such children.

The group said 2,300 children who have low-income backgrounds and working parents don’t have access to a seat in a subsidized program.

Local speakers — including Dana West, superintendent of 33,000-student Amarillo Independent School District — spoke about the findings.

West said Amarillo ISD students who tend to be most successful have had backgrounds that include learning and socialization at a young age, whether at home or at educational centers.

“Quality care — that’s a big deal and that makes a difference,” she said.

Jason Harrison, vice president of business development and governmental affairs at the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce, said education is key to economic development and attracting new businesses.

“From a business and employee standpoint, it’s vitally important for our community to have quality child care so people can be employed, they can give back to the community, they can feel good about themselves, and businesses can continue to grow and thrive,” Harrison said.

Harrison said access to child care was especially important in Amarillo because of its low unemployment rate, which signals a high percentage of working parents.

According to preliminary Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the Amarillo Metropolitan Statistical Area had a 3.1 percent unemployment rate in August.

The national rate that month was more than a percentage point higher at 4.4 percent.

Children at Risk is advocating for more Texas child care providers to earn a special certification from a state quality rating system called Texas Rising Star.

Used by the Texas Workforce Commission, which administers the state’s subsidized child-care program, Texas Rising Star is a voluntary program that offers three levels of certification based on quality. The program also offers incentives for providers to achieve the top, four-star rating.

“It enables parents to know what kind of quality they are getting at that child care center,” said Mandi Kimball, director of public policy and governmental affairs for Children at Risk.

“Is it a two-star, is it three-star, is it four-star? So it’s raising awareness and it’s also setting standards of what quality should be and what it looks like.”

Ninety-eight percent of children in Potter or Randall counties with a low-income background and working parents live in an area with inadequate access to TRS-certified facilities, Children at Risk said.

Still, the level of TRS participation in the Texas Panhandle was a bright spot, the group said. The region had 29 percent of its subsidized providers participating in the program.

For comparison, 6 percent of subsidized providers in the South Plains were TRS certified, and 9 percent of providers in the Permian Basin were part of the program.

But Jill Goodrich, director of Opportunity School — an Amarillo preschool with three-star and four-star campuses — said there was a lack of supply in general.

In the Potter-Randall area, there are 112 providers and nearly half do not accept child care subsidies, according to Children at Risk data.

Lubbock County has 189 providers.

“There’s just not enough spaces,” Goodrich said.

“There’s not enough spaces in our community for parents who are working, or in school, and need quality child care.”

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