Investing Early Matters

Why focusing on the current and future workforce is imperative for the economic health of Austin and the long-term success of our children.




Our current workforce depends on childcare. It is as simple as that.


Do you have kids? If so, think about what kind of childcare are they receiving and what it costs you. Are either you or your partner able to stay home to take care of your children? If not, take some time to reflect on your experience with the childcare system.


For two working parents to support two children in childcare, a typical family needs to earn $61,356 per year. A family earning the median household income would spend 18 percent of it on childcare and for a single parent earning minimum wage, care costs about two-thirds (64 percent) of their earnings. When childcare costs are on par with tuition at a state university, many working families can’t afford to stay home.


Right now, U.S. businesses lose three billion dollars annually from employee absenteeism due to breakdowns in the childcare system. And these breakdowns disproportionately affect low-income families.




The current workforce is inhibited by the lack of accessible and affordable childcare and businesses are suffering due to the lack of a prepared workforce.




While the current workforce is suffering due to a fragmented childcare system, our focus should be on preparing the future workforce – the children.


“People joke about economist when they say in the long run, they say well, in the long run you’re dead,” Jesus Garza, retired CEO of Seaton Healthcare said while testifying before the Austin School Finance Committee.


In Central Texas only 46 percent of all students and just 28 percent of low income students had the skills and knowledge needed for success when starting kindergarten in 2016. We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age five so when children enter kindergarten behind, students from low-income families often start one and a half to two years behind their more advantaged peers. Being behind in kindergarten, most likely due to lack of accessibility to early care and education, sets the stage for growing inequalities that ultimately predict high school graduation rates and post-secondary education completion.


“At H-E-B, we re-wrote our training manuals from an eighth-grade literacy level to a fifth-grade level, and that’s moving in the wrong direction,” Scott McClelland, President of H-E-B said. If we can’t hire and train a quality workforce, then it’s not going to bode well for the future of our state.”


Put bluntly, if we don’t invest in early childhood, the workforce of tomorrow will not be equipped to take jobs and our businesses, communities and families will suffer. Access to high-quality affordable pre-k is an investment in the future and it is an economic issue that impacts every one of us.




So how do we bridge the gaps and make up for the significant deficits in the supplies of high quality early childhood care in our region?


We know that access to affordable childcare increases completion of postsecondary education, raises workforce participation, increases workforce productivity and helps businesses attract and retain talent, but we must invest now.


Early Matters Greater Austin (EMGA) is a new part of our community strategic plan for Success By 6. In Austin, Early Matters is a collective impact model that works as a business alliance to engage local business leaders and community members to support efforts to make our community’s children better prepared for school and ultimately promote workforce readiness.


“Business leaders are often the kind of people in the community that decision makers and policy makers listen to,” Cathy McHorse, Early Childhood Education Director said. “We can’t program our way out of these problems, so we have to create comprehensive systems change and that’s where the business leaders come in. We have to bring new people, ideas and resources to the table.”


Working closely with Early Matters Houston and Early Matters Dallas, EMGA will work collectively to advocate and affect policy change at both the state and local level. A dynamic steering committee of 16 community leaders have been meeting since January 2018 to develop a strategic approach to uniting business leaders and advocating for a better early childhood education system. The group is in the process of creating an employer toolkit to help businesses assess their family-friendliness and provide them with the resources they need to better serve working families. EMGA also plans to create a challenge or competition around innovation to drive a disruptive influence, and hopefully new funding streams, to the early childhood space.


“We want to steer clear from the idea that some kind of basic technology can get kids school ready,” McHorse said. “It’s not about ABCs and 123s, it’s about the quality of the system and the people operating in it.”


You can’t choose your zip code, but whether you live in 78704 or 78745, all kids deserve a high-quality early childhood experience.


Will you join us in investing early?