Gov. Jack Markell has announced enhancements designed to help more early childhood programs receive high ratings and make it easier for kids from low-income families to get the best care.
Effective July 1, top-quality programs will receive higher reimbursement rates from the state for accepting kids from families whose incomes are 200 percent of the poverty level or less. In addition, Delaware will become just the second state, after Rhode Island, to make infant care a special priority by providing funding for the extra staff necessary to work with the state’s youngest kids.
The state will also focus on providing the specific support child care providers say they need to increase their quality ratings. To earn the top ratings, programs will be held accountable for meeting specific standards based on research about factors that most affect a child’s development - like a curriculum focused on intentional teaching and a highly trained staff.
"To build a strong future for Delaware, we must give our kids the best chance to reach their potential,” said Markell. “But we can’t wait for kindergarten to start preparing them for success. Quality early learning and care results in better educated, healthier, and more responsible adults."
The General Assembly passed a $22 million investment in 2011 to increase early childhood’s budget by a third. That funding was the start of an effort to significantly upgrade the state’s STARS Quality Rating and Improvement System by increasing the number of high-quality early learning programs and giving the best programs the support they need to accept kids who could otherwise not afford to enroll.
State reimbursements for those children were significantly increased to 80 percent for three-star programs, 90 percent for four-star programs, and 100 percent for five-star programs. (Programs are rated on a 1-5 scale.)
Last year, the number of low-income Delaware children attending high-quality programs increased by 50 percent, representing 2,200 kids.
Funding for the latest upgrades - the first major changes to funding for early learning programs since the initial improvements - comes from the $50 million federal Early Learning Challenge grant that Delaware won in 2011, to continue to improve early childhood education in the state.
"I'm very hopeful that these changes will allow more programs to afford infant care," said Cheryl Clendaniel, administrator at The Learning Center in Milford. "We see how important those first months are in a child's development, but the amount of the resources it takes to support infants has made it extremely hard for centers to offer space for them."
STARS enhancements for 2014 include higher reimbursements for 4- and 5- Star Programs; additional funding for infant care; raising standards for attaining 4- and 5- Star ratings; and additional support for providers in professional development, access to online curriculum and assessment credentials, and implementation of formative child assessment.