History of LWVTX Action on Early Childhood

History of LWVTX Action on Early Childhood

1991: Child care was a League priority for the 72nd Legislature and was a very active issue because of developments at the federal and state levels. The passage of federal block grant legislation during 1990 made significant new funding available to the state for child care, necessitating substantial policy development and planning by the state. In response, the interim Child Care Task Force of the House Health and Human Services Committee produced comprehensive recommendations addressing policy, planning, quality, and regulation, as well as measures to make child care affordable and available. The task force recommendations were introduced as a package of bills, most of which the League was able to support. The League worked closely during the session with other child care advocates through the Child Care Working Group for passage of these bills. Thanks to strong legislative leadership in both the House and Senate and coordinated advocacy, most of the legislation passed.

This legislation included a resolution setting forth a clear position for the State of Texas on the importance of child care and specific requirements to make child care affordable and available. Other legislation set guidelines for the implementation of federal and state child care programs and established an advisory committee to assist in developing policies for the use of state and federal funds for child care. A League representative was appointed to this committee. Another successful bill related to standards, licensing, and coordination of pre-kindergarten programs.

Several bills the League supported failed to pass because they required additional state funding. These included bills relating to training of child care providers and reimbursement of start-up costs incurred by child care providers, and one mandating a cost-of-care study.

1993: Due to fiscal restraints, few new initiatives for children succeeded in the 73rd Legislature. Most legislation that did pass was of a regulatory or technical nature. Many health and human services programs were under-funded in the 1994-1995 budget. A child care program that enables low-income families to pursue employment or be employed in order to remain off welfare was cut by $8 million, affecting 6000 children. The federal matching funds were diverted to serve four year-olds in communities that have pre-kindergarten programs, thereby subverting the intent of the program.

1994-1995: During the legislative interim, the Texas Board of Regulatory Services adopted stricter minimum standards for child care facilities. The League lobbied in favor of the new standards, contacting board members to urge their support. Unfortunately, the victory was short- lived. The 74th Legislature rolled back key provisions of the new standards, including child/adult ratios, square footage requirements, and group sizes. Prior to future changes to the minimum standards, an independent cost/benefit economic impact study must be completed and sent to the legislature. But implementation of the rolled-back standards was delayed until September 1997. This delay gave advocates for young children, including the League, the opportunity to educate legislators about the components of quality child care.

1997: Early in the session many of the recently strengthened Child Care Minimum Standards were lost to a compromise between child care advocates and legislators, but a number of positive child care bills were eventually passed. Child care professionals and advocates will be able to utilize an appropriation of $34.9 million from general revenue funds to qualify for matching federal funds for child care expenditures being spent, or that can be spent, in their communities. Other bills which passed provide child care training to local workforce boards, establish pilot programs offering child care training to welfare recipients, and mandate a child care representative on local workforce boards. Family home providers are now required to register with the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, pay annual fees, and obey state regulations. Other legislation provides guarantees for small and medium loans for child care businesses and non-profit centers that provide child care services, establishes the Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention, and provides school-based child care for latch key kids. The League produced an Advocacy Paper, Quality Child Care for Texas Children: A Sound Investment in the Future.

1999: LWV-TX followed several child care bills and the following measures were successfully passed. A child care resource and referral network will be developed to provide a periodically updated listing of child care providers, including hours of operation and cost, for each county. Professional child care training scholarships and student loan repayment assistance will be offered to child care workers. Additional training on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and early childhood brain development will be required for child care providers. LWV-TX supported these bills in order to strengthen the quality or affordability of child care in Texas.

2001: The focus of LWV-TX and other child advocates was on adequate funding to ensure that no children in working poor families are removed from child care in the next biennium. There was a slight increase in funding for child care, but it doesn't appear to be sufficient. Only through the reallocation of some unexpended federal Child Care Development Funds was the state's waiting list of approximately 40,000 children as of January 1, 2001 reduced.

2003: During the 78th session, quality initiatives for child care services were reduced through budget cuts. However, legislation passed which requires coordination of early childhood programs and establishes two groups to address the issue of quality early care programs. Even though the need for child care continues to expand, due to the state budget shortfall, fewer children will receive subsidized child care in 2004-5. The newly organized Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition, composed of child care advocates, holds promise for successful future collective action.

2005: Two of the child care bills LWV-TX supported were signed into law. Approximately 50 early care and education bills were filed this session. SB 23 expands the Texas Early Education Model (TEEM), an integrated model of service delivery of early care and education programs (pre-K, child care, Head Start) to increase full-day, full-year quality preschool services. HB 2808 contains an amendment which provided for the appointment of a blue ribbon commission to study early childhood education and development resource needs, financing options to secure adequate funding, as well as identifying barriers to the integration of preschool delivery systems.

Although the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), not a blue ribbon commission, is designated to conduct the study in HB 2808, it does provide an opportunity for advocates to work with leadership on the LBB during the interim. The LBB will conduct a performance review and develop a report to:

  • Study the resource needs of high quality early childhood care and education programs
  • Recommend options for additional funding
  • Develop a plan to implement in phases, full-day preschool programs for at-risk children and to expand the eligibility for early care and education programs.

Promoting quality initiatives and improving access to preschool programs remain as goals on the unfinished League child care agenda.

2007: Mixed results were accomplished by the 80th Legislature with emphasis on state oversight of child care facilities and staff. Additional funding for residential (foster care) licensing was obtained, but no new funding for day care licensing. Proposed cuts to public pre-kindergarten programs were also avoided.

SB50 (Zaffarini) A comprehensive, cooperative and interdisciplinary approach to improve all facets of child care, Pre-K and training of early childhood professionals, stalled in the House and did not pass. However funding for many of the provisions in SB 50 was included in the budget: pre-k services through the Texas Early Education Model, improve reimbursement rates paid to child care participants in Texas Rising Star Certification Program, and funding towards creation of regional development partnership projects to improve the recruitment, retention, and quality of professionals working with young children. A portion of the bill that required school districts to report TPRI reading scores in the school readiness certification system to the State Center for Early Childhood Development was amended onto SB 1871 (Zaffarini) which passed.

SB 758 (Nelson) allows children in the foster care system eligibility for Pre-K, ensuring that children who have been sexually abused, physically assaulted and/or neglected have a leg up before kindergarten, and to remain eligible for public pre-kindergarten after leaving foster care. HB 199 (Madden) addresses the critical first year of a child's life by establishing a residential infant and parenting program for mothers in prison.

The Texas Workforce Commission adopted new background check rules for relatives who are compensated by the state for providing child care in the home. HB 1385 (Villeareal) created a separate level of regulation for small businesses who offer child care on their premises for employees. This bill also included exemptions from child care regulation to some rural private schools and religious education programs.

2009: Update of the program title from Child Care to Early Childhood was approved by the LWV-TX Board of Directors to help better describe the topics in this area of advocacy. The early education movement in Texas this year has grown to be so strong that its only critics are those who opposed any public investment, no matter how solid the research. Since many bills filed for have to do with early childhood education we also act under the LWVUS position on Early Intervention for Children at Risk, adopted in 1994. See the section on National Program action at the end of this publication for action under this position.

Also SB 572 (Shapiro) "Jacob's Law," mandates two hours of annual training hours specifically related to the safe transport of children under the age of nine; SB 1646 (Van de Putte) establishes a Council on Children and Families to identify methods to ensure children and youth receive appropriate assessment, diagnoses, and intervention services; HB 136 (Villarreal) requires school districts to notify parents of prekindergarten eligibility; HB 1240 (Villarreal) requires infant care information to be provided to parents.

Following the legislative session, Texas Child Care Licensing initiated a review of the current Minimum Standards for center-based and home-based day care operations. The review process will further evaluate child care licensing regulations, addressing expired legislative initiatives, regarding the training provider qualifications and minimum training hour changes for child-care employees/operators facilities.

2011: Ten out of twenty-three bills supported by LWV-TX were signed into law, with eight taking effect 9/1/11. Legislation focused on safety and staff training, specifically increasing child care provider training hours, specifying qualifications for those providing child care training, and allowing the Texas Rising Star child care centers to use comptroller purchasing discount programs. Licensed child care homes will also receive additional fire safety inspections annually by local government, with other safety violations reported directly to child care licensing. Licensure improvements and government-sponsored databases will provide data indicating child care providers who meet minimum standards. Those centers meeting higher quality rating systems standards will also be identifiable for the first time from a state website. (Also see Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under Health Care for Those of Lesser Means).

2013: Seventeen of the 44 bills were signed into law with only $40 million earmarked specifically for supplemental pre-K funding. With nearly $300 million cut from pre-K programs during the 82nd legislative session, successful bills were low fiscal impact and dealt with early childhood program quality, earlier identification of children with disabilities, Early Childhood Intervention caseload growth, and child care regulation enforcement concentrating on child health and safety of all children.

The advocacy goals since 2005 for quality initiatives and improving access to preschool programs were largely accomplished this session with the success of HB 376 (Strama, et al), SB 50 (Zaffirini) and SB 430 (Nelson). HB 376 prioritized quality components in the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) child care subsidy system with quality programs receiving additional and incremental reimbursement rates. It also provided technical assistance to improve child care centers, required child care quality initiatives for local workforce development boards, and created the establishment of an appointed Texas Rising Star Program Review Work Group to continuously improve the quality of education/care for children on TWC child care subsidies.

  • HB 376 was the result of a statewide work group collaboration, with LWV-TX participating, spending four years to create legislation prioritizing quality care for children on federally funded TWC child care subsidies and resolving the extremely low reimbursement rates providers receive.
  • SB 50 expanded the composition of the Texas Children's Policy Council adding representation for at-risk and special needs children.
  • SB 430 requires the Department of Family and Protective Services to verify the unavailability of community day care before day-care assistance or services are specified to be provided by foster parents.

The successful Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition consolidated with Texans Care for Children to better serve advocates on priority and crossover issues. Texas early childhood program funding continues to be a concern; local entities are creatively funding pilot projects to gain increased child access to local pre-K programs.

2015: Only four of 52 filed bills were signed into law this session with three focusing on child care records/inspection transparency and one on pre-K. With pre-K identified as one of the Governor's emergency legislative issues, HB 4 was earmarked the Governor's pre-K bill. It passed providing a small bump in funding for public school pre-K programs that meet new requirements. It does not include class size limits or other quality provisions, but it takes a first step that future legislatures can build on. HB 4 provides an additional $130 million via grants for the 2016-2017 biennium for high quality pre-K programs to currently eligible 4 year old students without explicitly funding or requiring full-day programs. HB 4 does change the Education Code requiring the Texas Education Agency (TEA) or school districts to do the following:

  • To "attempt" to maintain a ratio of not less than one teacher or one teacher's aide for each 11 students;
  • Pre-K teachers are certified teachers and have a Child Development Associate or certain other additional early childhood qualifications;
  • The TEA Commissioner to develop a pre-K teacher training course;
  • To permit partnerships between school districts and private providers;
  • High-quality pre-K programs measure the progress of students in meeting recommended learning outcomes;
  • To opt into the new high-quality programs to create family engagement plans;
  • High-quality programs use a curriculum that meets the TEA Prekindergarten Guidelines, and
  • To report to TEA class sizes, teaching ratios, the type and results of assessments used, and the curriculum used for all district pre-K programs

The Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program has experienced growth in the proportion of enrolled children who have more complex needs, such as a medical diagnosis or a delay in multiple areas. Much of this change stems from budget cuts in 2011, which led Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) to narrow the eligibility criteria for ECI and keep children with less acute needs out of the program. DARS requested $14 million in additional General Revenue (GR) for the 2016/2017 biennium. The Legislature opted to cut pediatric therapy service rates and partially fund this budget request with $3.8 million in GR funding and $5.9 million in All Funds (a combination of state and federal funding). This funding was estimated to allow the program to provide an average of 2.75 monthly service hours, rather than the 2.78 that DARS hoped to reach by 2016 and the 2.88 it hoped to reach by 2017. This represents a $2.5 million decrease in All Funds from expenditures during the 2014/2015 biennium, despite an anticipated increase in the number of children served and hours of service provided. The ECI program is expected to serve a monthly average of 26,753 children in 2016 and 27,170 in 2017. Another unknown is the state agency consolidation impact of transferring DARS functions to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).

2017 Numerous cross-agency bills were proposed with only three bills overcoming political stalemate: (a) HB 2039 created an early childhood teacher certification to teach students prekindergarten through Grade 3. (b) HB 674 limits out-of-school suspensions for students in grades prekindergarten through 2nd grade and permits school districts to implement positive behavior management strategies. (c) HB 357 expands prekindergarten eligibility to include children of seriously injured or fallen first responders.

 The legislature cut appropriations for prekindergarten, eliminating the funding for the high-quality 2015 grant program. Instead, legislators passed a budget rider simply directing all school districts to comply with the grant program quality standards using a portion of the Foundation School Program kindergarten entitlement, totaling $236 million statewide for a high-quality prekindergarten program. Educators recognize the need for high standards, but the enforceability of the rider is in question. The best way to drive improvements is through high standards coupled with additional funding to support additional district investments in quality teachers, full-day options, reduced class size, or other improvements. And legislators failed to improve:

  • Transitional Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) services.
  • Nutrition standards in childcare.
  • A review of the Texas Workforce Commission subsidized childcare program.
  • A staff/child ratio and group size incident reporting of licenses childcare study.
  • Licensed before- and after-school programs promoting healthy eating and physical activity.
  • A task force to coordinate the multiple agency study of parent engagement/education programs provided.