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Travis County to call tax rate election to expand child care, after-school programs

Four kids play with wooden blocks on a gray mat on the floor.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
An estimated 2,000 children in Travis County don't have access to child care.

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Travis County residents could vote on a tax rate increase in November that would be used to expand access to early childhood care and after-school and summer services for low-income families.

A ballot referendum was approved by Travis County commissioners Tuesday.

The measure would ask voters to approve a 2.5 cent increase per $100 of a home's value. That would amount to about $123 annually for the average homeowner.

If approved, the increase would generate nearly $77 million. The money would be used to increase the number of spots available for children in early childhood, after-school and summer programs, as well as expand care outside the typical 9-to-5 day.

The county said the money raised through the measure would go toward increasing scholarships to families in need of assistance and incentivizing businesses to offer child care stipends to their workforce.

County Judge Andy Brown said an estimated 2,000 children under 3 in Travis County are without access to child care right now, and there is a nearly two-year-long wait for families seeking a child care stipend.

“As members of Travis County Commissioners Court, we hear frequently from families who are struggling to meet just those basic needs," Brown said. "That's why we are taking this next big step so we can alleviate this financial burden for working families and ensure that every child – regardless of socioeconomic status – has access to the nurturing care they deserve.”

David Smith, CEO of the United Way for Greater Austin, said that increasing access to early childhood development helps families thrive. Children who have access to quality after-school and summer programming are more successful in school later on. These programs also help them develop strong social skills and build healthy relationships. They even lead to higher graduation rates and earning potential.

“The data is clear,” Smith said. “Those investments pay off. When we invest in our kids everything we don't want goes down, and everything we do want goes up.”

But most of all, Smith and other supporters of this effort said, increased access to affordable, quality child care allows parents to return to the workforce or enroll in skills-training opportunities that lead to good-paying jobs.

Tamitha Blackmon, founder and owner of the Nehemiah School, said the additional funding would go a long way for many child care providers in Austin.

“Without this sustainable funding, we would probably just wither away and start closing different facilities,” she said. “We have support but there is still a lot of work to do on this ballot initiative. … We need to have everyone in our community come out and support us.”

Smith said programs that pay for early childhood development have been successful in other cities. For example, San Antonio residents voted to create Pre-K 4 SA in 2012, which served 1,500 4-year-olds in its first two years. In 2020, San Antonio voters approved the program for another eight years. The program also now offers classes for 3-year-olds. Kids in these programs had higher test scores, according to the Pre-K 4 SA website.

Austin and Travis County have been working to invest in affordable child care in recent years. In October, the city changed its land rules to allow child care centers to operate almost anywhere in the city. The city also eliminated property taxes for some child care operators.

The Commissioners Court still has to call for an election, which is expected to happen later this summer. Election Day is Nov. 5.

Clarification: This story was updated to clarify that the 2,000 children without access to child care are under 3 years old.

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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