‘A bait and a change’: Austin mom charged monthly fee to be on childcare waiting list

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — “It happens,” laughed Nicole Smith as she stood in the middle of her nursery.

There are piles of baby wipes, stuffed animals lined up along the windowsill, and many diapers.

“Very terrified,” she said.

She and her husband are first-time parents and wanted to prepare for Baby Addison’s arrival in June. They started looking for daycare around December 2021.

They enrolled at Austin’s Primrose School in Mueller.

“We have friends who bring their kids there and really enjoy it. And so we went there, had a tour, really liked the facility,” Smith said.

They even agreed to a waitlist fee of $100 a month until their daughter could enroll, which would then go toward her tuition.

“It was anything but a promise that, you know, we would have no problem getting in September,” Smith said.

But when she saw a Facebook post from another parent whose enrollment date was pushed back by six months, Smith grew concerned. She called to verify her own date and was then told that her daughter probably wouldn’t start school until at least the spring of 2023.

“It was almost like a bait and switch which, you know, of course they told us and now they’re telling us it could take even longer than six months, there was no definitive timeline that was given,” Smith said. .

She said she was also told they were in the middle of a waiting list of dozens of families.

“And if they keep pushing it. now you chain us. So for 40 families, you get… $4,000 a month with no services rendered. And you’re just going to keep doing it until there’s ‘no space’,” she said.

Once KXAN started digging into the issue, the school changed its policy – ​​no longer charging a monthly fee and capping the waitlist at 50 families.

“After talking to all of our intended parents, we have capped the waiting list at 50 families and are no longer charging a monthly fee. We also continue to be in frequent contact with potential families as we do our best to provide estimated timeframes for space availability.

Christy Black
Primrose Schools Franchise Owner

Black, who also owns Primrose Schools in Bee Cave, Lakeway and West Lake Hills, said they are also offering waitlisted parents a refund and immediate placement at the West Lake Hills location “until ‘until the space is available’.

“In my 15 years of experience, we haven’t had a waiting list with such a volume of interest from parents, especially since we’ve had one in the past six months. . It is important for us to be transparent about wait times while working with parents to do our best to meet their needs as quickly as possible,” Black wrote in a statement to KXAN News.

Smith said the school wasn’t transparent until KXAN stepped in, and she just wants other families to be aware of their search for the right school.

“I just hope this can… help people,” she said. “I think it’s good for other families to understand if there’s a guaranteed timeframe to understand how their waitlist works.”

Melanie Rubin is Chair of the Board of the Texas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. She said monthly waiting list fees are not common.

“But it’s not unheard of because we really are facing a child care crisis that we’ve never seen before,” she said.

Rubin said the coronavirus pandemic has compounded a staffing issue.

“Programs don’t want to fill up with kids who won’t come,” she says. “Most of their intentions are really good and they really want to help at the same time as they are struggling to maintain a business so they have to be realistic as well as what it looks like.”

This graph from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and KXAN media partners in the Texas Tribune shows that more than a third of fully licensed child care providers temporarily closed at the start of the pandemic. Today, almost two years later, 8% of daycare services are still permanently closed.

She said infant care is the most expensive and scarce. But it is best for providers to be transparent with their families.

“You support the workforce – we are the workforce behind the workforce,” Rubin said. “It’s so important to be transparent to be reliable so parents can plan what’s realistic for them.”

It’s back to square one for the Smiths.

“Now we kind of have to start our search again. And I feel like we’re at a disadvantage because now we have less time before she comes. And the waiting lists are, are long everywhere,” Smith said.

How the City of Austin is trying to help

In 2018, Austin City Council members passed a resolution to bring more high-quality child care services to the area.

KXAN has checked with Austin Public Health on its progress.

They say they’ve added child care to the Bergstrom Tech Center and are also working on a public health and child care center in the Dove Springs neighborhood, which is currently in the licensing phase.

The agency says it also used federal funds to help the facilities:

  • $11 million from the American Rescue Plan Act
  • $1 million to support relief grants to child care providers under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
  • $5,048,000 to support relief grants to child care providers through the City of Austin’s Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors (SAVES) Fund
  • $2.6 million to support childcare for essential workers through Federal Community Development Block Grant – Covid Relief

In August, the the city council approved another resolution.

“One of the measures I have recently sponsored also asks our staff when you are – when presenting proposals to council for them to consider as new or major redevelopments of city facilities that there should be day care – should be an on-site child care element as part of this new municipal facility,” Kathie Tovo said.

There are exceptions, such as if there are “other high quality child care centers” near new projects.

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