How Texas Tackled A Child Care Shortage

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The tour makes a virtual stop in Texas to learn how child care and early childhood education advocates are working with business leaders and elected officials across the political spectrum to expand care options for families.

We meet panelists Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes, the representative for District 2 on the Austin City Council; Natalie Boyle, founder and CEO of Mommies in Need; and Sarah Baray, chief executive officer of Pre-K 4 SA, San Antonio’s award-winning early learning program.

The three panelists speak with host Gloria Riviera about tailoring solutions to fill the needs of communities across such a vast and diverse state and about how creating a child care center in a hospital not only addressed a critical shortage but also facilitated access to health care.

Show Notes

Presented by Neighborhood Villages. Neighborhood Villages is a Massachusetts-based systems change non-profit. It envisions a transformed, equitable early childhood education system that lifts up educators and sets every child and family up to thrive. In pursuit of this vision, Neighborhood Villages designs, evaluates, and scales innovative solutions to the biggest challenges faced by early childhood education providers and the children and families who rely on them, and drives policy reform through advocacy, education, and research.

This season was made possible with generous support from Imaginable Futures, a global philanthropic investment firm working with partners to build more healthy and equitable systems, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn and realize the future they imagine. Learn more at

This episode is made possible through the sponsorship and support of Early Matters. Learn more about the Early Matters coalition of business, civic, education, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders who work together in their regions to solve challenges in early education and child care.

Check out these resources from today’s episode: 

Visit Pre-K For SA to learn about the work of improving the quality and quantity of pre-kindergarten education opportunities for families.

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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit



Sarah Baray, Vanessa Fuentes, Gloria Riviera, Natalie Boyle

Gloria Riviera  00:01

WK Kellogg Foundation is proud to support No One Is Coming To Save Us. The WK Kellogg Foundation is guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive. Learn more at The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s early childhood development initiative in the United States supports the wellbeing of caregivers and their young children prenatal to age three. The Hilton Foundation does this through investing in caregiver and parent education and well-being supporting local organizations, and strengthening the early childhood field. Learn more at

Gloria Riviera  01:01

Welcome, everyone to this episode of No One Is Coming To Save Us. I am your host Gloria Riviera. And as you know by now, if you’ve been listening to the show, this season, we’re doing something special we are setting out across the country to not only talk about the problems in child care, we talk about those a great deal. But we also want to shine light on solutions and really learn from those across the country who are doing the very difficult work, but very fruitful work in their own communities to make things better in early education and childcare. We are here virtually today to hear from truly amazing advocates who are engaged in the work of making childcare affordable and accessible. We talk about those two things a lot affordable and accessible for families across the great state of Texas. I need to say a big thank you to Early Matters for their partnership and sponsorship of this event. Without Early Matters, this just would not happen. Early Matters is a coalition of business, civic education, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders who work together in their regions to solve local issues facing children, our littlest ones ages birth to aid through programs and policy. Early Matters is responsible for bringing us all together here today. So thank you, thank you, thank you to them. In a moment, we’re going to hear more about the challenges families are facing and the unique ways they’re making it work in Texas and they are making it work. Early Matters has built a coalition of not just childcare providers, advocates and families, but also businesses we need businesses, philanthropists, and community leaders who are all collaborating together on some truly amazing work. And I would love to now introduce you to some of them. So first we’re going to speak to council member of Vanessa Fuentes. She is representing District 2 in the up and coming city of Austin, Texas. Welcome, council member Fuentes.

Vanessa Fuentes  03:09

Hi there. Happy to be here.

Gloria Riviera  03:11

So happy to have you. Also, we’re joined by Natalie Boyle. She is the founder and CEO of an incredible organization mommy’s in need. When someone is going through a health crisis. Mom is in need provides care for kids. It’s such important work. It’s so needed. And they do that so that the families can access health care. What do you do if you need to go see the doctor with your children, since its inception in 2014, mommy’s in need has provided 10s of 1000s of hours of free childcare. Welcome, Natalie.

Natalie Boyle  03:47

Thank you so much for having me.

Gloria Riviera  03:50

Absolutely. We are so happy to have you here. And last but not least, I’m so excited to welcome you. This is Sarah Baray Dr. Sarah Moray. She is the CEO of Pre-K 4 San Antonio, the city’s award winning early learning program, you’re going to hear a lot about it and it, it is truly worth every recognition it has received. Dr. Baray has more than 25 years of experience in education. over 30 years of experience in the field. She has been a professor, a teacher, a principal, and a district administrator, someone who cares so deeply about this topic. Welcome, Sarah.

Sarah Baray  04:27

Thank you. Happy to be with everyone.

Gloria Riviera 04:31

I’m so glad we’re all here together. And I want to say to our listeners, welcome to all of you to this episode of no one is coming to save us. I want to jump right in and I would love to start with Natalie. Texas is one of the largest states in the country. But it also has a lot of shared it challenges with other cities across the country. So can you start us off? Pretty generally with the headlines. What challenges are you seeing in the state out of Texas, for families who are just trying to access childcare? What does it look like for them?

Natalie Boyle  05:05

Yeah, so it is, it definitely is something that is very difficult in a lot of ways. And one of those things is coming out of COVID, we’ve had so many childcare centers that have had to shut down. And even more so when the kind of funding the bedrock funding that we get a lot of senators have been using when that goes away. And so we have essentially a very difficult supply and demand problem. So when we’re looking at that, and but what I will say is that I think, as you mentioned, with early matters, Dallas, there’s a lot of people trying to figure out very creative ways to make a system work. And so what I see is a lot of innovation happening, despite the difficulties that are that are going on in the area.

Gloria Riviera  05:49

The numbers are pretty astounding. And I am curious to know, as I compare them to other cities, but we’re talking about according to one study, 27% fewer programs now in the state of Texas, than there were in 2020, that is, we can’t we cannot keep going down that road or we will be in real trouble. So I want to go to Dr. Baray, you told me to call you, Sarah. So I will call you Sarah, I have permission, you know, the roles that you’ve played in this area are so significant. You’ve been doing this work for a long time. Tell us about your work and how you ended up at pre-K 4 SA, I read a little bit about it. And something that came to mind, you know, that old saying, If you build it, they will come. I’d love to hear how that applies to where you are now. But first tell us about the program. And what you hope to see for the program in the future.

Sarah Baray  06:46

The research is really clear that if you are going to change the future, you have to start in early ed, it’s in fact, you know, I’m an educational researcher, I can tell you, there’s lots of different strategies, but the most effective cost wise and outcome wise is early education. And so they conceptualize pre-K 4 SA, which is really a brilliant architectural design, I can say that because I didn’t have anything to do with it. This is long before I got to pre-K 4 SA. But essentially what they did was say we want to demonstrate what high quality looks like. So we’re gonna build these four amazing preschools which are going to increase the access. But we’re also going to put in professional learning to make sure that any early learning educator in San Antonio has access to the training they need. We’re going to provide grants so other programs can be amazing as well. And then we’re going to engage families because we know that young children are embedded within families and so it’s really important. They are the first and most important teachers of their children. And they put this idea before the voters and really it was kind of crazy what they’re asking because they said hey, San Antonio, will you raise your local sales tax by an eighth of a cent to fund this new innovative program that nobody else was really doing? And San Antonio, because it’s amazing communities that it is, it’s very invested in children and youth said, Yes, let’s do it. And I came in in 2016, which was when the program had started, really was through its build out phase, we opened our four centers, we were serving 2000 4-year old’s, and we were started with four year old’s, because we were leveraging state funding for pre K, Texas is not ahead in many educational arenas. However, we have had state funded pre-K for since the 80s. Right? Perhaps not enough funding, but at least we’ve had it and so the San Antonio was leveraging that. And I came in then to say, okay, we’ve got these four amazing centers that show what’s possible when young children have access to a highly skilled teacher and evidence based curriculum, they can learn at very high levels, because partly what was built into pre-K 4 SA was also independent research to say, is this working, that we’re going to have public investment, and we need to know does it matter? And the research was saying yes, absolutely, it does. And we need more of it, we need to expand. And so I got to come in after having spent, as you said, a career doing lots of different things in education. I actually had started out in early ed and then went on to do all the different things, including running a Ph. D program where I was on a research team for over a decade, looking at schools around the world and educational equity. And what I saw were lots of pockets of excellence, but many more classrooms with disengaged children, disengaged teachers, particularly in the early years. So I heard about this place called pre-K 4 SA, I came to visit and I was blown away that they San Antonio had taken all the research that we know about what works in early learning, and really applied it to this great innovation. And the good news is I told my husband after visiting hey, I’m just gonna go sit there because I’ve never seen nothing like it. Fortunately, they actually hired me so I get a salary to do that. And that’s why I came I left a full tenured professorship to come do this because I think the power of what San Antonio was trying to do was so incredible, and I wanted the opportunity to be part of that.

Gloria Riviera  09:55

It’s incredible to hear that you left a full tenured professorship to Come do this work. That’s how important you felt that it was. And we need more highly skilled, highly observant, highly impactful people doing this work. Vanessa, when you hear what’s going on in San Antonio, and you look at your region that you’re representing, what are some of the common things that you identify with that you think are also challenges where you are?

Vanessa Fuentes  10:21

Well, I’m inspired to hear about San Antonio is pre-K 4 SA model. It’s an incredible model and shows what a community who is who is bound together can do when they coalesce and around an initiative. And the challenges that we’re facing here in Austin. Austin, we just broke in the top 10 largest cities, we’re now the 10th largest city in this country, which is wonderful. But even as a prosperous city, we are also one of the most segregated communities in America, both by income and by race. And for what that looks like for me as a policymaker in Austin is understanding that affordability is the number one challenge that we have as a city. And childcare costs are one of the top costs for families right behind housing. I have families in my district who are paying $1,200 per month, per child for childcare options. And that is way too much for families who are living paycheck to paycheck. And so we have a childcare accessibility problem in our city. We also have long waitlist, I had one constituent share with me that as soon as she got pregnant, she signed up for a waitlist on a childcare center. And she did not get a spot until the child was 6 months old. That’s how bad it is. We have super long waitlist, the price are high. And then we’ve also had some regulatory zoning issues that I would love to talk a little bit more about later. But what we know is that when you have this reality when there’s lack of childcare options, when it’s unaffordable for many working families in our city, this causes stress and anxiety for parents. And you know, this is already, you know, coming out of the pandemic, it’s confounded the situation that we’re in. And ultimately, families want safe, reliable options for their children. And what I know is that we’re not alone in this, this is an issue not only in the state of Texas, but all across America. And the last thing I want to touch on is that the financial model is broken all around, our parents are paying way too much ridiculous costs, our educators, childcare workers are essential workers are way underpaid. And our providers are working at the margins. And so this is a complex issue, one that we have had some innovative strategies that we’ve employed, and I’d love to chat more about it later. But I just wanted to kind of set the scene of the reality for many of our families.

Gloria Riviera  12:57

I know and there’s no limit to how impactful it is to set the scene. Because what we’re hearing is the same thing. We all share the same challenges that have taken this broken system to where it is right now and COVID really highlighted that, you know, it’s interesting, because always who’s going to pay for it? Right? That’s always the bone of contention. And to think that an 8%, what was it an 8%, of the local sales tax, the voters said, okay, we can do that. You know, that answers that very important question of how we’re going to pay for it. And I want to talk about zoning, because when you talk about zoning, I don’t know what that means and how that comes into what childcare looks like. So we will definitely get to that. In fact, why don’t we go there right now, why don’t you take us there right now, because we’re touching on it?

Vanessa Fuentes  13:50

Sure. So in our city, we have childcare deserts, these are areas where we do not have enough options for the population that we serve. And what we know in the city of Austin, I had one, one resident reach out and told me, you know what, we don’t have enough options. I want to be a part of the solution. I’m going to open up a childcare center. Do you know how much it costs to go through the permitting process because operating a childcare is not a permitted use in many parts of the city? It’s going to cost him $20,000 before he even broke ground, on the center just to go through the regulatory process. That’s how much barriers we have. So the first policy I brought for this calendar year was around reducing those barriers, relaxing the zoning and making sure that, you know, in all parts of our city, we would be able to have childcare centers operated. And we also and this is a critical part of it. We set up a grant program because many of our childcare centers, they’re small businesses, they need assistance to help get started. And so we set up a grant program to where we can help invest in and fund these childcare centers if they are operating within a childcare desert. So that’s one of the ways that we’ve taken going to look at how can we make sure that every family and every part of the city has options. But certainly a lot more work needs to be done.

Gloria Riviera  15:08

When I was preparing for another event, I was looking at the site, I believe it’s on the Center for American Progress where you can zoom in on a specific region and it will tell you how many providers are operating, and how many children how many providers, how many home providers and then how many children there are under the age of 5. And it was astounding even for me I’ve done this show for this is the third season, those numbers were not remotely in sync.

Gloria Riviera  16:39

I want to go back to Sarah because I know that serving 2004 year old’s is fantastic. But am I correct to ask you about your work and finding spots for those who do not get placement? What is your work look like in that area?

Sarah Baray  17:34

First of all, we have a waiting list for our pre K schools. So we have 2000 slots, and this year we had 6000 applications. So immediately what we’re doing is connecting families to other programs, whether they’re and we’re agnostic, like it, we know families need choices. So whether it’s a public school, private school, parochial school, charter school child development center, we just want to make sure that they know that there’s an affordable option out there and in San Antonio, every four year old has an affordable option because most of our districts, they’ve seen the power of early learning and they are offering universal pre-K, even though the state doesn’t fund it for them. And this is where Early Matters has come in. They’re helping us because they’re doing a pre-K campaign and really, across the board helping the community to understand it’s time to enroll Kids, let’s get them in, let’s get them connected. But even before that, birth to age three, we’re working with a network of 57 Child Development Centers to help them increase you know, their business model, but also get more enrollment and let families know there are providers out there that are going to work with you that have scholarships through our workforce development, you can afford this, we can help you with this. They’ve got sliding scales. And so increasingly pre-K 4 SA is focused on that part of the work. Now that we’ve leveraged the state funding to get more pre-K 3s and 4s spots we were going to focus before the age of 3 and it’s really critical work. Because you know, families need that, as you say it’s a big stressor on families to not know, you know, 6 months is a long time to wait to figure out what you’re gonna do with your infant. And if you have to go to work, where is your infant, going to be your if it’s probably going to be with a neighbor or relative who may or may not be, you know, equipped to provide that kind of high quality early learning and care.

Gloria Riviera  19:15

Right, it takes me back to something my own mom said in the first season. She would go knock on doors in the neighborhood because she wanted to go back to work. She only had a very short time in college before she found out she was pregnant. If she said I would say hi my name is Charlotte. I’m looking for someone to care for my child so that I can go to work, very simple. That is what, that is the need. I want to go back to talk to Natalie a little bit about that need right I need someone to care for my child. So I can do X, Y, Z. Sometimes XYZ is go to the doctor. Child care can be challenging for many reasons, but health crises are one of the leading challenges families face. Can you tell us a little bit about how that specifically led to the creation of mommies in need?

Natalie Boyle  20:06

Yeah, absolutely. So, honestly, it came from just me being a parent, I had twins. And they’re 11 now. But when they were babies from the time they were 6 weeks old, until they’re about 2 and a half, I went through a series of life threatening medical challenges. And I was in the hospital lot, I had six surgeries, I had to consistently try to find someone to watch newborn twins. And I was very lucky because I had family support, my husband, and I could afford to hire a nanny to fill in some gaps. But I just started realizing the lack of support there is, and particularly if you’re a stay at home parent, already, you’re not getting disability, you don’t have a lot of options on how you’re going to take care of the kids. And so, a friend of mine, Annie got diagnosed with colon cancer, and she didn’t have access to those same resources. So essentially, in the hospital, I was like, well, I’m better now. And I don’t need my nannie, and why don’t I send her to you. And then we’ll just we got a bunch of friends at church to pitch in for it, right. And what we discovered very quickly was that everyone was asking me, I know someone that needs this help. And so we started going, okay, well, maybe this is more. And so we got our 501(c), we incorporated as mommies in need. And we began just hiring nannies and sending them into client family homes. And that was tremendously successful. But a few years in, we started to recognize that what we were doing with the home care program didn’t meet a lot of needs, really from the most vulnerable members of our community, right. Because, you know, if you don’t have stable housing, we can’t send a nanny to your home. If you have 8 people living in a small one bedroom, it’s not an environment that we can do that. And then the other piece is that not everyone into the in home care is like full time, you get a nanny 40 hours a week for up to 6 months. But you have to be completely disabled during that time. That’s the criteria. Right? And then not everybody needs that full time care. And so that’s when I got introduced to the chief innovations officer at Parkland Hospital, which for Dallas is the only safety net hospital. So it sees almost, you know, 100%, underinsured, uninsured, Medicaid, you know, all of those kinds of things, very low income families. And so what we discovered there, when we started talking to them about like, hey, could you put a childcare at a hospital? Why don’t we see? So they did a research study, and they found when they limited it to women of reproductive age, childcare was the number one reason that women missed medical appointments. And that seems like common sense. But when I tell you how, when this was presented, the room was just a gas, they couldn’t believe that that was such a big issue. And so then we started working on the pilot. And we built a nice place, named for my friends who unfortunately passed away a few years ago, and it was around the time we were going to open the center. And so it was really beautiful for us to get to do that in her honor. But it is a childcare center, on the hospital campus. It provides free childcare for anyone needing any kind of medical appointment. And so it’s a drop in center. So people come, they drop their kids off, they go get chemotherapy, they go get dialysis, whatever they need to do, and they’re able to access the health care that wasn’t available to them previously. And so with the Annie’s place model, so we opened in November of 2020, which was an absolutely wild thing to do as a childcare center. So they we were calling licensing, and they’re like, wait, I’m sorry, you’re opening a childcare center at the hospital that is the center of this pandemic. And we’re like, yes, we’re gonna do that. But well, the people that were using our services there, needed it so badly, right? It wasn’t nobody was going in for preventative anything at that point, people were going because they had chemotherapy, right, it was things they could not be missing. And then because of that situation, we started developing some different needs. And that was of NICU babies who couldn’t, the parents couldn’t stay with the NICU baby because of you know, having another sibling. And then the last piece, which kind of led us to the next phase of our growth was getting called by the clinics and being like, we are so short staffed. We don’t have any nurses today. We have one nurse, but she doesn’t have childcare. And we started kind of adopting that. And so that’s where we got to this caring for kids so families can access health care. So we’re right at that intersection of health care and child care and that’s sort of how we got there.

Gloria Riviera  24:39

That is an incredible story. I mean, it’s amazing that now three seasons in this is the first time I’ve heard about a drop in child care center at a hospital. And it strikes me as one of those simple it’s so simple. It’s such a simple idea, but was there any one moment where you thought okay, now someone’s on board, a big decision maker who’s going to green light it?

Natalie Boyle  25:01

Yeah, absolutely. It was when Dr. Fred Cerise, who is a very well respected person in the medical community and the CEO of Parkland, when he had the first conversation with us, and he got it, and he said, this needs to happen. And the beautiful thing about having worked with Parkland is that they always wanted us to develop this as a pilot. So in, we are actually soon to be announced. But we are working on our second location with a different hospital partner. It is something that, as you said, it makes sense. It’s a solvable. I mean, what we stumbled on was a solvable problem. Because if you had a childcare center at every hospital and every clinic, then no person would ever have to miss their medical care because they didn’t have access to childcare. And the thing that I think has been really interesting is that as we developed into that area of wanting to serve the hospital staff, as well of considering that as part of health care access, we now so we’re doing an expansion at Parkland. So we will both have a full time childcare center focused on lower income employees, text, janitorial staff, the people without whom the whole hospital shuts down. But for him, childcare is outrageously expensive. And we’ll have both that alongside the drop in center. That’s for patients. And so that holistic solution is what we’re working on, on expanding.

Gloria Riviera  26:23

That’s incredible, and so instills a lot of hope in me. And I’m curious, Vanessa, you know, in your work on policy, and zoning, you know, you have experience and looking at the bottom line, and that number being insurmountable to a lot of people to open a childcare center. What do you take from the work that Mommies In Need has done? And how do you apply it to your own efforts to change minds secure funding, really, towards opening more doors, right? Because we have that 27% fewer programs in the state of Texas now. So how do you take what we’ve seen over there and apply it to your own work?

Vanessa Fuentes  27:05

What I think is really neat about what Natalie shared about Mommies in Need program is that understanding the role and the influence that your organization has. So for example, the city of Austin as an employer, we passed a policy that asked for and directed for any new city facility that is built or constructed, that there has to be a childcare center within and that includes for leased buildings as well. So that is helpful for workers at the city. But it’s also important for residents who are neighbors around the city facility, I have a new building being built in my district, we have a public health facility that is slated to open up next year. And that will also have a childcare center. And it’s gonna be one of the larger childcare centers in our neighborhood. So it’s leveraging that power, that influence that you have as an organization. And then of course, you know, as a policymaker in the city, you know, we take a look at how we fund our investments, we took advantage of the federal American rescue act, we made an $11 million investment in our city, and that included investing in child care workers in training and expanding services within our school districts for pre-K 4 and pre-K 3. But that wouldn’t have been possible without the work of early matters, which is a great organization that really convenes nonprofit, civic organizations, government business leaders to come together. So I’m really lucky that in our city, we have an early childhood strategic plan that sets our vision for how we can improve and ensure that we have equitable access to affordable high quality childcare. But those are some of the ways that we’ve been thinking about this, through that work. And the one last thing I want to mention is we also funded a study that’s taking a look at nontraditional childcare. So understanding that for many of our working families who have a late night shift, thank you, nurses, people who work at the airport who work in hospitality, you know, finding childcare centers that are available after hours is really challenging. And so I’m excited to see that study, move forward and look looking forward to what comes back from that study. Because we need to do a lot more within that space to provide options as well.

Gloria Riviera  29:24

I want to talk to Sarah about getting pre-K 4 SA, off the ground and how you view collaboration. Right. The business leaders, the philanthropist, I mean, we have relied so heavily on the generosity of organizations like Early Matters. All over the country, people have stepped up in the absence of really federal funding being provided. So Sarah, what have you seen in the opening of these four locations? What has been a big positive and how you’ve seen collaboration come to financial fruition?

Sarah Baray  30:01

So we have lots of visitors that come from all over the nation to look at pre K per se, see what we’re doing in San Antonio and try and figure if they can do it in their own community. And one of the things that I always tell them is the reasons that pre-K 4 SA came into his existence is because of the support from business and civic leaders, hands down. That’s why because early learning folks were busy doing the work, we’re not great advocates in terms of generally at the policy level, or making people aware of what we do, we’re so we’re so entrenched in the work that it’s sometimes hard to get up and, and make people understand the needs of, of early learning and why it’s so powerful. And so we they were instrumental in helping get pre K for I say, off the ground, but then was when we started to look at our mission of really changing the infrastructure of the whole early learning ecosystem in San Antonio, we realized we needed to bring them back to the table and help them understand it’s not just about pre-K 4 SA, alone is not going to solve every problem, right? We need to work collectively on this. And so well, that’s when we got involved with early matters. Because I had heard about early matters in Dallas and early matters in Austin. I thought that’s what we need here in San Antonio. So we got a couple of key business leaders, including Peter Holt, and Joe Straus, the former Speaker of the House to say, would you convene a group of business leaders to learn about early learning why it’s so critical as to businesses and to our entire future in San Antonio, and then help us figure out how do we engage business leaders in the work of changing and strengthening the infrastructure, but also of policymaking? Because business leaders have the ear of policymakers, for lots of different reasons. And we felt like if we could help business leaders understand the importance of it to their bottom lines, but also to them as good community members that they would help us in that. And that’s really what has happened. Texas is a little bit different, I think, than some of the states where we, you know, we talked about New Mexico who had great leadership at the state level, and they’ve done tremendous things. In Texas, while we’ve had support from the governor and some other state leaders, it really has been cities that have moved it forward and showing what can be done and then putting forward policy. And that’s where it really matters comes in taking all the great stuff that’s happening across all the different cities in Texas, and rolling it up into what are the policy levers that we can leverage to make changes to improve early learning and care and our business leaders are key to that because they’ve gone to bat they’ve written op eds, they call people, they convene people, they really have been a tremendous asset.

Gloria Riviera  34:15

I’m curious if Natalie you felt like once the doors were opened during the pandemic the least likely time anyone would open any kind of childcare center. I can’t believe I’m only hearing about this now. But have you seen the impact that bringing people in to see what’s happening? Has that had a positive effect on opening minds up to what is possible? It’s a very simple question.

Natalie Boyle  34:40

Yeah. And it’s interesting because everybody’s kind of mentioned sort of what Early Matters means to their organization and for us, those kinds of things. What we’ve discovered is we’ve discovered a model that works because we have so the way it is, is Parkland owns our building, and they basically cover everything they would for any other building. So we’re able to operate without a huge amount of overhead, which means we can pay our staff living wage, which means we can do you know, and we’re able to make it affordable for families, because we don’t have that. And what I love is the opportunity to say, hey, if we can do that here, where else could that apply? Where else could you put in a childcare center. And the other piece is, you know, we do drop in care? Well, a lot of employers would hugely benefit from a place that wasn’t maybe their regular daycare center all the time. But hey, my mom watches the kids most of the time, but she’s out sick. So I can still come to work and have that. And so I do think there’s a lot of opportunity to start kind of thinking a little bit differently. And what we’ve done that’s been so successful is saying, hey, when the space and overhead is provided, and that could be by that could be by a school that could be, you know, in any kind of situation, and I think it, it opens up some possibilities for, you know, systematic change here for able to kind of use different types of spaces and organizations and companies to be able to create a solution for their employees.

Gloria Riviera  36:15

It’s interesting to hear you say that, because the image that came to my mind was a patchwork quilt. We’re in this scenario in which we really have to look at all the different parts that we can bring together to provide a comprehensive, early education and childcare scenario for families. And, you know, we talk a lot about choice and how important that choice is. I’m curious to ask Vanessa, because I know that you’ve worked on several different issues, and we’re focusing on early education and child care right now. But do you see a positive impact? Post the zoning regulation changes post working on something very specific to help people open the doors? Has there been a trickledown effect of that, that you’ve been able to see it? Or are you still in process?

Vanessa Fuentes  36:59

I think certainly we’ve seen a little bit of an impact. I mean, we’re still very early on in the implementation of those changes in the need. And the scale of the issue is so great, that we certainly need something bigger and something much more targeted. And I’m looking forward to working with our partners here in Austin on what that could be certainly have my eyes out for San Antonio and their model. But the reality is, is that this is an issue that we’re having, not just in Austin, but all over our state. And I really think it’s not on local governments alone, we need federal support. We need state support. We need our business community or philanthropic sector, everyone has to be involved. But the solutions for communities have to be tailored to the communities we serve. Because what works in San Antonio might not work here in Austin and might not work in Dallas. And that’s why I really love community led and community driven solutions and why organizations like Early Matters and United Way, when they come together when they can use their convening power, we can come up with something super dynamic.

Gloria Riviera  38:08

I love that phrase convening power, there is power in coming together. And I’m curious if we can do some real time discussion brainstorming here. Sir, if I’m a CEO of a business, or you know, Vanessa, if I’m a legislator that has impact potential on new laws, or Natalie, if I’m the CEO of a hospital, what works? What is the messaging? And I’d love for Sarah to go first and tell us what is the messaging that you see, click?

Sarah Baray  38:40

Yeah, and I spent a lot of time on this, because we went up for reauthorization, and 2020. And I spent the years before helping people to understand the benefits of early learning. And a couple of messages that really resonated with business and community leaders was his idea that 90% of the brain develops before the age of 5. And the brain we have at age 5 is largely the brain we have for the rest of our lives. Now we continue to learn and grow. But that architecture, if we build it, and it’s strong, then that sets children up for strong, not just K12 education experiences, but for life. And it’s really the economists who have demonstrated this, the support for early learning and the research comes from economists who’ve been able to demonstrate that the best return on an investment you’re going to get in the education pipeline is starting in the earliest years. And the other sort of soundbite that people think about is that in the youngest years, in the first few years of life, children develop a million synapses, a second, a million brain synapses every second, which means not just every day, but every minute of a child’s life matters. And that and the way that children develop strong brain architecture is through The positive adult child interactions, which means that adults in the children’s lives, the more they are interacting in a positive way and engaging with children in a way that supports them, the stronger the children are going to be set up for life. And those have been things that really resonated with business leaders, and then to say, and guess what public funding doesn’t really start until age 5. So if we had it to do, I’ve spent my life in K 12 education for the most part in higher ed. But I, if we had it to do over again, I think if we knew then what we know now, we would fund public school, if you will, or public education would start at birth, and maybe ended ninth grade. And that becomes the option like college. And we do some kinds of things like that. Because the other piece is, it doesn’t make any sense. parents with young children tend to be at the earliest years of their earning potential, right. So they’re making the least they will ever make. And that’s where the costs are the greatest, it just doesn’t make any sense from an economic perspective. And it certainly doesn’t make sense from a perspective of businesses who want to have really strong workforce, and those great leaders are going to lead their communities. And so the research is really clear. And I think that’s what has spoken to business leaders.

Gloria Riviera  41:09

And the global example is very clear. And President Biden spoke about this, you know, I’ve said, you know, it’s been a long time since the President in his State of the Union even mentioned the world word child care. But, you know, Biden has cited that about half of our three and four year old’s are enrolled in any kind of early education were in places like Germany and France, the UK, that’s like 90%. And we spoke to people, Americans who live in Berlin, who said, we’re not coming back till we’re done with our keto was the colloquial term that they called it where she was funny, she said, you can go and there’s early education, early care for your baby. There are also therapists there, there’s job support there, you know, it’s like a one stop shop for supporting people when they become parents, because that’s where we have gone astray. So the work that you all are doing is putting us back on a track. And there’s a lot of positivity in this conversation. So that makes me believe that there’s some editing as we go, right? What do we want this to actually look like? You know, I want to go back to Vanessa, to just ask, you know, what, what should lawmakers be doing? What kind of role should they be playing in expanding access to child care, outside of zoning, outside of the things that you’ve mentioned already?

Vanessa Fuentes  42:35

Well, I have a fundamental belief that every family regardless if you’re White, Black, or Brown should have access to high quality, affordable childcare. And that we should leverage the power and influence that we have as local policymakers to bring forward policies that support pro working families, I’ve been really proud to champion raising the minimum wage in the city of Austin to $20 per hour, one of the highest municipal city wages in the country. I’ve also led the effort to expand paid parental leave where our city will have 12 weeks paid leave for our families. And so I think that there’s a lot that we can do from a policy standpoint, and from a convening standpoint. And what I think is also important are those public private partnerships. And that’s another space that local policymakers can help with.

Gloria Riviera  43:35

It’s interesting to hear you, you talk about how we view early education and childcare and how we view who we need to bring together to support it, because historically, we haven’t prioritized people when they become parents. And so then it would make sense that we don’t prioritize the children. So I choose to see this as a slow moving but moving in the right direction process. I’m interested to hear how familiar all of you are with the CHIPS program because from where I sit in Washington, DC, we spoke earlier in this episode about new construction being required to have childcare on site. And there is debate now that we’re at this very micro level of discussion about should employers be required to provide childcare because then it puts the onus on parents, oh, my childcare is tied to my job. I happen to think, listen, let’s take what we can get. We don’t have it when we need it anywhere else. So I understand where the CHIPS Program, which is essentially for listeners who are not familiar with it if you seek federal funding to open a business and it’s over a certain amount you are then required to provide childcare and part of it is designed to attract more women back into the workforce at high paying wages. I mean, I couldn’t believe what a plumber makes in a first year, but it’s a very good wage. So I can get behind that. So I’m curious, Sarah, let’s start with you, because you’ve been in this work for a long time. How do you react to something like that employer tide childcare?

Sarah Baray  45:18

Yeah, I think, yes, it’s a great idea because it helps. But I also think we can construct it in a way that makes it more flexible and real for families. Because not every worker wants to have the childcare at their workplace, because they have another parent that’s involved in this. And there’s just so much to childcare. But I think the idea that employers need to provide that benefit for their workers is the key. And it could be through a local child development center, that they have a partnership with that they offer, you know, scholarships, or tuition or something that allows the family to choose what makes sense for them. I think that’s really the key. And I think it’s not that hard of a sell to businesses, when businesses understand that childcare is their business, and that their most valuable asset is are their workers. And when they see the numbers that say that you’re losing a ton of money, when we are workers can’t come to work because they don’t have childcare or they change jobs. I think, in my conversations with business leaders, they often don’t know that they are losing employees over childcare issues, because that’s not what employees tell them. And because especially among women, we often don’t talk about that it’s not safe to talk about, oh, I’ve got childcare issues. And I’m not gonna talk about that at work. I might make work decisions based on that. But I’m not telling you. And so I think that understanding that it is everyone’s business, including businesses, and that we can come up with solutions that work that don’t tie a business to the requirement you have to have onsite childcare, but that you have to think about this as an employee benefit, I think is a great idea.

Gloria Riviera  46:59

Right? Think about it as an employee business. And we have to make sure that every business knows it is their business. It is because right now, that’s just you know, I mean, wouldn’t it be great, there’s a lot of like idealistic things that we can talk about? And the answer is yes, it would be great. One of the most helpful things I heard early on and reporting out this issue was that childcare, many should think about it, or you can think about it as infrastructure, that it’s how we get to where we need to go. And then right, the next thought, in my mind is choice, like what works for me might not work for you. And so I’m curious, Natalie, when you’ve created something that is highly helpful for those who want choice like this is when I need to go, so I’m dropping off my child now. Do you have any stories that you can share about people expressing gratitude for that, especially that the nurse that can’t come to work? Because she doesn’t have childcare? That’s a beautiful solution.

Natalie Boyle  47:56

Yeah, you know, we talk about like the particular leaks, we work largely with families that are living in poverty, the absolute lack of choices that the women that we serve have. And I think one of the, you know, hardest explanations of it, but that one of the best ones is a mom who had just a ton of health conditions. It was during kind of the height of COVID, when they weren’t allowing any children in the building. She had to get bloodwork. So she left her young son in the car, said don’t open the door. I’ll be back in 15 minutes. Well, unfortunately, when they did her blood work, she was so critically low on hemoglobin that they had to rush her back for emergency blood transfusions. And then someone had to go out into the parking lot and find that little boy. And of course, they had to open a CPS case because he was left in an unsafe safe situation. And then once she started once, they heard about Annie’s place, and we connected with her there, she started using it regularly, something I haven’t mentioned, we actually have a full time play therapist on staff, so that we can provide the emotional supports to children who have a sick family member. She started seeing our play therapist, the mom was getting her regular medical care. And then the piece that so our social worker was able to close out the CPS case, because we got to an understanding that the only reason she was leaving her child in unsafe situations was because she had no other choice for her health. And so being able to say that’s never gonna happen again, you know, and now we have a place. And then my favorite part of the story is that we were seeing her 3, 4 times a week for months and months and months and months. And then we didn’t see her for a long time. And when she came back, our front desk said, well, you know, we’ve missed you, where have you been? And she said, well, I’m finally on top of my health so I’m not as sick anymore and I don’t have to go the doctors often. And that’s the kind of impacts that we’re talking about on the patient side, right? And then when we talk about the on The employees side, we have just as compelling stories, right? It’s about an employee who is a foster parent. And so she continually and regularly Foster’s children. But because of that, it’s hard. Because if they don’t have a daycare, that’s just the same age of the children all the time, right? And so she’s able to use our drop in program to say, hey, I have kids right now that are five. And could you watch them this way? And so I think the choice piece is really important, and understanding their different needs in different communities. So what we do specifically is in the healthcare field, which has a lot of intricacies, but I think that the key that you take from that is, okay, if we figured out how to do this in the healthcare field, what does that look like for teachers? What does that look like for city workers? Right. And that’s a lot of the piece that, you know, we have been working with Early Matters is connecting to go, hey, okay, so our model is not for your company, but come and learn about it, so that we can show you how you can do it in your space.

Gloria Riviera  51:02

Well, I want to thank you all so much, we’re at the end of our time, I look at you all and I think that you bring something unique and different to this conversation, and I see you all needing each other, but doing the work in your respective communities to push something we all need forward. And I you know, I throw my hands up in the air because I felt like well, I guess we’re just gonna have to do this ourselves. And we’re doing it, you know, we are doing it. So I’m leaving. My heart is full knowing that good people like you, with such deep expertise and care are doing the work. So thank you for joining us. That is it for our show. This has been amazing. I want to thank our partners over at neighborhood villages and of course, thank those Early Matters Texas for their support of this event and they’re supportive. All that you do. Thank you to Austin City Council member Vanessa Fuentes, Natalie Boyle founder and CEO of Mommies In Need. Thank you. And Dr. Sarah Baray, CEO of pre-K 4 San Antonio, thank you all for joining us. And thank you to all of our listeners for listening to this episode of No One Is Coming To Save Us. Guess what? Somebody is coming to save us. You’re listening to that. We’ll see you all next week.

CREDITS  52:30

No One Is Coming To Save Us is a Lemonada Original produced with Neighborhood Villages. The show is produced by Kyle Shiely and Martin Macias. Our audio engineer is Noah Smith. Music is by Hannis Brown. Our VP of weekly content is Steve Nelson. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer along with me Gloria Riviera. If you like the show and you believe what we are doing is important. Please help others find us by leaving us a reading and writing us a review. And most importantly, by telling your friends. Follow No One Is Coming To Save Us wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership. Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back next week. Until then, hang in there. You can do this.

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