A  developing agreement among local child care providers to share administrative and professional development services took further shape Wednesday at a meeting at Pre-K 4 SA’s South Education Center.

Representatives from about 20 child care groups out of Bexar County’s more than 600 centers met to discuss services they are interested in sharing. The proposed partnership, commonly referred to as a shared services alliance, was first discussed at a meeting in early June when Pre-K 4 SA and United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County floated the idea.

The concept would allow child care providers, which often perform administrative tasks including payroll, maintenance, recruitment, and marketing in-house, to contract for certain services. By sharing these costs through a network of child care providers, centers could free up time and money for better services to children and teachers.

San Antonio’s alliance is still taking shape and lacks many details, including who will participate, how the services will be funded in the initial months, and what services will be shared. The child care centers that sign up would work with Pre-K 4 SA and United Way to design the menu of services, all of which would be free to the care providers in the first year of the agreement. In the following years, the centers would take on more of the cost, eventually bearing the entire expense.

“It isn’t just about pouring more money into the system of childcare providers,” said Shay Everitt, the director of early childhood education initiatives at Children at Risk, an organization helping to orchestrate the agreement. “The issue that can address all of the [challenges child care providers] mentioned has to do with how money is being spent. Many of you are operating as your own accountant, cook, nurse, everything. You’re doing everything and that’s not how other businesses, or even schools, operate.”

When polled at the beginning and end of Wednesday’s meeting, most child care providers said they wanted help with staffing, teacher pay, educator training, cash flow, and a pool of substitute teachers. Participants said they are reserving judgment on the partnership until more details of the alliance are clearer.

Over the next five months, child care providers hope to hash out specifics of the agreement, with the goal of starting the alliance in 2020. Pre-K 4 SA and United Way will be in charge of fundraising to cover the cost of any services in the first year acting as the network’s hub.

In 2021-22, child care providers will take on some of the cost and can modify or expand the offerings. In 2022-23, child care centers will take on the full costs.

There are about 30 similar collaborations in place nationwide, Everitt said. However, they all look different based on the needs of the individual centers, she said.

“This helps you stay small for small matters,” Everitt said, referencing small matters like knowing the names of individual parents and personal lives of teachers, “but be big for big matters … like being able to pay your teachers more, or doing recruitment together or enrollment.”

By November, interested centers are expected to sign agreements to participate in the partnership.

While there are more than 600 child care centers in Bexar County, not all will be eligible to participate, said Kasi McCormick, United Way’s vice president of grants. A center must accept students who use subsidies to pay for child care; be willing to work toward a 4-star score on the early childhood program rating Texas Rising Star program; and want to pay teachers higher wages to participate.

The next meeting for interested centers will take place on Aug. 20.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.