More than a half a million children under six in Pennsylvania live in families with both parents working outside of the home – chances are they are your neighbors, co-workers, and employees. Where those children go when their parents are at work matters for them, for their families and for the future of our community. While the availability of high quality, reliable and affordable child care has been shown to reduce employee absences, increase productivity, and reduce turnover, what it does for children is more profound. If you’re reading this blog, you likely know what the research has shown – that over the long term, high quality care and education helps to build the brain architecture for life-long learning and teaches the social and emotional skills necessary for kids to become thriving, healthy adults.
Thankfully what makes early childhood care and education high quality is also well established in research. To make quality elements actionable and accessible for all children and those that care for them, Pennsylvania set out more than a decade ago to build one of the country’s first quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for early care and education providers, they named it Keystone STARS.
This past August, Pennsylvania rolled out new Keystone STARS standards that were developed through a 14-month process that engaged more than 3,000 stakeholders. The new system will now include all 7,509 licensed providers in the State of Pennsylvania (the previous system was voluntary) and provides increased subsidy payments to high quality providers serving low income children receiving child care assistance. To make the program more meaningful to providers, the system has 50% fewer quality indicators, less paperwork, meaningful and achievable performance standards, and more flexibility.
The new STARS system creates significant opportunity for the early care and education industry to increase quality for sure, but it is also an opportunity for business and civic leaders, advocates, and policymakers who understand that investing early is good business – to do our part as well.
How? We now have the opportunity to systematically understand the barriers and opportunities to increase quality because all providers will be participating in the STARS assessment process. Further, the financial incentives available for providing high quality care and education create an additional reason for providers to want to increase their STAR rating. The combination of this new rich information about provider quality and financial incentives for them to reach higher make this an opportunity to develop or expand community efforts for attaining more high-quality care and education in local communities.
For example, what if we could learn that providers in your community could achieve STAR 3 rating with some modest facility improvements that they can’t afford to make? Or that the only thing holding a provider back from STAR 3 or 4 is getting more staff to obtain their child development credentials? What if enabling providers to share back office operations was a way to reduce administrative time and costs so that they could better focus their energy on serving children? What if existing high quality providers could serve more children with a capital investment in their facility?
If you knew these things in your community, you might help design facilities funds that help providers expand or achieve quality such as Philadelphia’s Child Care Facility Fund, scholarship funds for teachers to attain needed credentials such as York’s Bridge program, scholarship funds for children to attend high quality programs such as Erie’s Future Fund, and shared back office supports among providers to enable smarter business management so that providers can focus on serving children such as Early Childhood Innovative Connections in Lancaster. Or maybe you’d design your own way that is right for the children in your community and the people caring for them.
The opportunity in our new STARS is that we can more easily know the challenges we face and do more to expand access to high quality care and education for our children. The launch of the revised Keystone STARS program creates the opportunity for us to engage with providers in our communities in new ways, to identify and remove barriers that are keeping them from reaching their full potential and keeping too many of our children from the care and education they deserve.
How will you and your community respond to the opportunity in our STARS?