CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Across the state of Texas, child care providers could see a mass of closures as lawmakers decided not to provide $2.3 billion in funding in the 2024 budget.
Since 2020, childcare providers have received more than $4 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, but that money is starting to dry up. This means that childcare centers are still in need of assistance. However, without the additional state funding, many of them will have to find other options to keep their doors open.
"About 40 percent of child care centers will go out of business, and we may be among those if we don't get any relief within the next two years," Cesar Flores, President & CEO of Neighborhood Centers of Corpus Christi, said.
Many childcare providers, like Neighborhood Centers of Corpus Christi, were hoping to use state funding on things like increasing worker pay. But since that's not happening, they don't know if they'll be able to retain and keep their employees. In addition to the funds that would help with many of the economic issues that childcare providers are dealing with, the current state of the nation's economy is also taking a toll on the parents who are trying to save in every way possible.
"They're finding alternatives," Flores said,"They're finding moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and community providers. Folks are out there saying, 'Hey, I'll do this for you, and y'all pull together.' That's something we've never seen before, something we've never had a problem with."
The idea with many businesses is that if they're short-staffed, many of their remaining workers will pick up the slack to get things done. But Flores said he and his team could not do that. He's gone from having six dozen workers to just a little more than 40. He added that he is limited to ratios, and his directors have been doing a lot more administrative work within the past few years.
A lot of the workers are starting to leave their jobs to find work elsewhere with better pay. This is happening across the nation, not just in Texas. Due to that, Flores mentioned that he's having to constantly train new workers, which takes time. But the reality is that many of them work for only a few months then they're done, causing a constant cycle of Flores looking for dedicated workers.
He also said he was required to add state-mandated academic curriculum so children would be prepared when they head to school. He emphasized that doing so costs more money.
"That's where my cost of operations have gone up now," Flores said, "I have costs of tablets. I have all those other added costs because I'm having to deal with less employees to do the work. By the way, we're not child care anymore, we're early childhood education centers. That's from the mandate from the state of Texas."
As more than 13,000 childcare providers across Texas wonder about the future of their business, Flores said he hopes that lawmakers consider how essential their services are to communities, particularly those in underserved areas.
"We're all having a hard time making ends meet and there's excess of money that isn't being directed to where we really need it. Invest in the centers that are investing in the community," Flores said.
The money that would have been used to help fund these childcare centers is going towards other state priorities like lowering property taxes. Lawmakers added $35 million in childcare money to the next budget cycle. However, that money will serve as financial aid for families to afford child care.