Small fee waivers mark first stab at addressing Austin’s high-quality child care issues

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High-quality child care centers throughout Austin that accept child subsidy vouchers will begin receiving annual fee waivers as part of the city’s effort to improve the access and affordability of valuable childcare.

In Austin, 54 percent of children entering kindergarten are developmentally unprepared due to the widespread lack of access to high-quality early child education options, according to the city’s public health department. Preparation for kindergarten leaves students four to five times more likely to pass standardized tests, which, statistically speaking, increases the likelihood of future academic achievement and real-world success, according to the local nonprofit E3 Alliance.

However, only 13 percent of the child care centers in Austin are high-quality—that is, focus on the emotional and mental development of each individual child.

Austin City Council Member Delia Garza brought this issue to the forefront in 2018, calling on the city to find ways to encourage more child care centers to meet high-quality standards while also remaining affordable.

The Austin Public Health Department was the first to answer that call following a City Council vote on Jan. 31 to approve the department’s offer to waive annual food permit and environmental licensing fees for high-quality child care centers that also voluntarily accept child subsidy vouchers.

Don Hastings, assistant director of the public health department, said the fee waivers represent a $21,075 hit for the department in 2019. The food establishment fee waiver costs a child care center $445 per year, and the environmental inspection costs $110 per year.

Hastings said both are the only annual fees levied by the public health department against child care facilities. Although he called it a small number, Hastings said it was a “significant incentive” for child care centers.

Stuart Hirsch, a resident from southeast Austin, spoke in front of City Council on Jan. 31 regarding the waivers. He said he hopes the city will consider waiving more development-related fees to help further reduce the cost of child care. He also recommended the city expand child care subsidy vouchers.

In March, city staff are scheduled to come back with a list of city fees associated with child care facilities. From there, city leaders will begin determining which can be waived and how to use the waivers as an incentive to expand access and affordability.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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