Businesses lose billions due to lack of child care, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker says


American businesses are losing billions each year because workers don’t have enough access to child care, officials said at the Dallas Regional Chamber’s third annual State of Early Education address Thursday.

Access to high-quality early childhood education is important because it directly impacts business communities, parents and kids, said Dale Petroskey, president and CEO of the chamber.

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, who was the event’s keynote speaker, stressed that adequate and affordable child care is important for communities so businesses and the economy can thrive. And early childhood education is key to helping kids be successful later in life, she added.

But not everyone can afford high-quality preschool or child care or has it nearby. And that leads to businesses nationwide losing about $13 billion annually in costs due to the lack of child care.

Parker shared her own experiences, noting that her daughter’s college tuition at Texas Tech University was less expensive than the tuition at the Montessori school her 4-year-old was attending.

“This is an incredibly debilitating cost for American families, and unfortunately, it’s not getting much better,” Parker said.

While businesses suffer, kids do too.

Research shows that about 90% of brain development occurs by age 5 and that getting high-quality education early is more effective than any other intervention by schools or society later in a child’s life.

What businesses can do to help

Private sector businesses can implement family-friendly policies, Parker said.

The chamber recognized 109 companies in the Dallas region that have implemented family-friendly benefits and policies. (The Dallas Regional Chamber is a supporter of the Education Lab at The Dallas Morning News.)

Such policies that companies can implement to help parents include on-site child care, flexible hours, working remotely and maternity leave. Chamber officials noted that research suggests 35% of Texas workers who have or plan to quit their job cite child care issues as a primary reason.

“We need great child care where our kids can be stimulated, so that parents can go off to work, feeling peace of mind that their kids are getting a good day’s worth of care and education at the same time,” Petroskey said.

Why invest in early education?

Making the Dallas region the best place for people to live, work and do business all starts with delivering a quality education to ensure a strong workforce, Petroskey said.

“We need talented workers who are well educated and trained so they can do the jobs that need to be done here so we can keep growing,” he said. “On the other hand, every person deserves a chance for a good education, a good job and a good life.”

For every dollar invested in early education, the return on investment is between $7 and $12, Parker noted.

Parker added that the United States spends about $500 per child to educate kids under 5. But $14,000 is spent per student in kindergarten through high school. In contrast, Norway spends about $30,000 per child to educate those under 5 while Germany spends about $20,000, she said.

“So frankly, our investments just don’t make sense,” Parker said.

High-quality early childhood education goes beyond day care to include learning opportunities, which means investing in quality instructors as well, she said.

“Usually the women that serve in our child care facilities — that are taking care of your babies and my babies — that are high-quality child care educators make less than a cashier at Buc-ee’s in this country,” she said. “We can do better than that.”

Change in the Dallas area

While the private sector must do its part, local governments can help too, Parker said.

For example, in May, Tarrant County commissioners approved $45 million in federal funds to support child care and make long-term investments in early childhood education across the community.

“This can be transformative and will be transformative in Tarrant County,” Parker said.

Fort Worth, Arlington and Tarrant County leaders had previously funneled $2 million of that federal pandemic aid to boost child care educator pay.

These efforts coincide with others to invest in holistic approaches to expand access to child care.

“The future of the American dream and our success hinges on how we treat our youngest and most vulnerable,” Parker said.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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