Parents looking for quality child care in Contra Costa will soon have an easier time identifying it, thanks to a new quality rating system First 5 Contra Costa and our partners are launching this month.

We’ve selected 20 child care centers to participate in a pilot Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) designed to support and assess the quality of licensed child care programs. Each site will be rated and earn points for various elements of quality, such as teacher-child ratios, teacher qualifications, and teacher-child interactions. The total points determine the overall rating, similar to ratings for hotels, movies, and restaurants.

QRIS systems provide another system of accountability. Because of the public nature of the QRIS rating system, it is a market-driven approach to improving the level of quality in early education program.  Ideally, families will choose an early childhood program based on its quality rating.

The other important piece is the support provided to child care programs to help improve their rating – the “Improvement” part of QRIS. Pilot recipients receive training and professional development designed to increase their ratings. In addition, the centers will receive a stipend of at least $2,000 and possibly up to $5,000 depending on the program’s size and level of staff commitment.

The pilot program is funded through the federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant (RTT-ELC), which California received last December. Contra Costa is one of 15 counties participating in the shared $54 million grant and will receive $1.4 million through December 2015 to implement the pilot rating system.

Ideally, and with adequate funding, all licensed child care providers will participate in the voluntary QRIS program. In the meantime, First 5 Contra Costa expects to reach 90 centers and family child care homes over the next four years. Per the RTT-ELC grant, these programs must serve high-need children, including infants and toddlers, dual language learners, children with special needs, and children eligible for state and federally subsidized programs.

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