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Let’s Do It Better: Updating ECE Regulations in Texas

Recently, dedicated advocates worked together to support legislature to increase standards for early child care and education in Texas. Don’t miss the details on this exciting push for progress!


In June 2019, the Texas legislature passed a bill to update licensing regulations for early care and education (ECE) providers. Since September 1, 2019, ECE providers in the state have been held to higher standards for nutrition, active play and screen time. Given Texas’s reputation for small government conservatism, any move to strengthen business regulations might seem surprising. But a dedicated group of advocates in the state made a compelling argument that the legislature couldn’t ignore: We’ve regulated ECE programs for decades. Now let’s do it better — let’s do what’s best for children’s health.

Texas has set minimum standards for child care licensure since 1979. As is true in most states, Texas licensing regulations focused on keeping kids safe and healthy during their time in care. They included requirements around building inspections, sanitation and hygiene, background checks and minimum adult-to-child ratios. While the regulations protected children’s health in the present, they did far less to protect children’s future health.

We’ve learned a lot about children’s health and development since 1979, and Texas licensing regulations fell far short of current evidence-based standards. Research shows that nutrition, active play and screen time in early childhood have a big impact on children’s development and lifelong health. Good nutrition is the foundation for healthy brain development, fueling rapid growth in a young child’s cognitive, motor and learning systems. Active play helps children build strength, coordination and social skills, while excess screen time is linked to learning delays, behavior problems and obesity

We now have nationally-recognized standards for nutrition, active play, screen time and sugary drinks in ECE. The standards not only promote children’s healthy development, but are feasible for ECE providers to follow. In fact, many ECE providers in Texas were voluntarily meeting the national standards. It was time for the Texas licensing regulations to catch up. 

Starting in 2015, Partnership for a Healthy Texas led the way in updating the state’s licensing regulations. A number of medical groups were active in the coalition, which lent credibility to its policy recommendations. They proposed regulations that were backed by science and supported by pediatricians and other experts committed to healthy child development.

Pairing medical expertise with support from the ECE provider community was critical. The Texas Association for the Education of Young Children and other ECE provider groups were active advocacy partners, bringing the voices and priorities of ECE providers into the conversation. Provider advocates spoke to the real-world importance of good nutrition, active play and limited screen time in ECE, and vouched that the higher standards were doable and not burdensome.

It took years of commitment and persistence to succeed in updating the licensing regulations. It took time to build support, find the right legislative sponsors, refine the bill language and hone in on an effective message: we’re already doing this, so let’s do it better. And the legislature finally listened.