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Fall pre-K enrollment underway in Tarrant County. What resources are available to parents?

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 4/1/2024

Tarrant County parents are weighing their options for pre-K and child care this fall as enrollment opportunities and fairs are approaching, but there’s multiple variables to consider when searching for a family’s best fit. Early childhood experts and organizations want to help simplify this process.

For younger children, there’s multiple private and public operations ranging from smaller child care homes to larger child care centers to pre-K programs in the school district. Location, price and curriculum are just the start of what must be considered. Additionally, older students are faced with a variety of options involving public, private and charter opportunities. An app encompassing child care and education options in Tarrant County offers a way for parents to filter this information in a more efficient manner with real-time updates.

The free Parent Pass app, created by The Miles Foundation and Best Place for Kids, allows families to search for child care, after-school and summer camp programs in their area while looking at operating hours, child care cost and the number of available slots. It also provides navigation for district, private, charter and other school options from pre-K through 12th grade. The app’s “FIND” tool connects to two online platforms, TOOTRiS and Schoolahoop, that provide this information and puts it in one place. QR codes that give direct access to these various educational resources can also be viewed at this link.

The child care search tool was launched at the onset of COVID-19 and is currently utilized by about 8,800 families, according to Sara Redington, chief philanthropy officer for The Miles Foundation. It’s undergoing upgrades that are expected to be rolled out early next week, which will include more information about a facility’s accreditation and teaching styles while allowing parents to message or speak with a specialist about their options.

“We have over 70 community partners that are on the app today that have their services listed and every service within the app is fully vetted by our team and by parents, you’re never going to end up with a dead end phone number or website,” Redington said. “We’ve tried to make our search tools as customizable as possible to accommodate those needs.”

As parents navigate child care and pre-K enrollment, Kara Waddell recommends families visit a facility in-person, ideally when children are present, to get a sense of the environment. The president and CEO of Child Care Associates, one of the largest child development programs in North Texas, also encourages parents to check a facility’s Texas Rising Star rating to determine its level of quality. The state program gives ratings to participating early childhood programs that must operate above minimum regulation standards.

Teacher turnover data and a facility’s licensing and inspection history, which can be viewed on the state’s Health and Human Services website, are also noteworthy, in addition to a provider’s communication style with parents.

“There’s nothing more important to any young family than where they place their young child, and it’s really challenging,” Waddell said.

Waddell also notes that families who are seeking Child Care Management Services scholarships to help pay for care should sign up as soon as possible, as waitlists are “massive” across the state.

“The waitlist in Tarrant County is extensive. If you sign up today and turn in your paperwork, you are not going to get child care for months. We only serve about 12% of eligible families for this program, and so it’s going to take a partnership between our government, our employers, our families and our child care providers coming together so that we make it easier for families to find it, and we’ve also got to make it easier for families to afford it,” Waddell said.

Additionally, now is the time for enrollment for those who qualify for Head Start and Early Head Start, Waddell added, which provides free child care for low-income families with children ages 0 to 5. Child Care Associates will be hosting Kid Fest, an enrollment fair for children ages 0 to 5, on April 13 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at their headquarters located at 3000 E. Belknap Street in Fort Worth.

In the Fort Worth Independent School District, applications for pre-K programs for the 2024-2025 school year open on Monday and can be accessed on the district’s website. Although the district accommodates all children who turn 4-years-old on or before Sept. 1, there’s limited room for 3-year-olds who live in specific areas of the district. These children qualify by income and must be zoned for the nine available elementary campuses such as Eastern Hills, Morningside and T.A. Sims.

The pre-K day will be extended this upcoming school year to align with the Kindergarten through fifth-grade schedule, running from 7:50 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., according to district spokesperson Cesar Padilla. The previous dismissal time was at 2:50 p.m.

“We made this decision with the goal of better accommodating our families by streamlining pick-up and drop-off times for students. We believe that this adjustment will provide added convenience and support to our school community,” Padilla said.

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