Mon., July 1, 2013 1:00am (EDT)

How Good Is Your Childcare Center?
By Joshua Stewart
Updated: 10 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
Georgia is trying to encourage childcare programs to improve their quality. The state has instituted a new rating system that goes public Monday with one-, two- or three-star ratings for childcare centers. The program is voluntary, but state officials are pushing more centers to participate and are beginning a media and advertising campaign that includes billboards like this one. (Photo Courtesy of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.)
Georgia is trying to encourage childcare programs to improve their quality. The state has instituted a new rating system that goes public Monday with one-, two- or three-star ratings for childcare centers. The program is voluntary, but state officials are pushing more centers to participate and are beginning a media and advertising campaign that includes billboards like this one. (Photo Courtesy of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.)
The first batch of new ratings for Georgia childcare programs go online Monday morning. Nearly 200 centers have scores now and more than 1,000 more are working on getting one.

Georgia has about 6,000 daycares, preschools and after-school programs. They must be licensed, but becoming Quality Rated with one, two or three stars is optional.

The state Department of Early Care and Learning created the program last year to encourage centers to improve quality and go above and beyond basic licensing requirements. Officials hope parents will start taking notice and asking more programs to get rated.

“I think that it’s a stronger program, it’s a stronger market message, to have it be voluntary,” said Laura Johns, DECAL’s director of quality initiatives. “Because then it really does divide the programs who are really investing a lot in quality and the programs who are not interested in investing a lot in the quality.”

(Johns shares much more about the Quality Rated program in the interview on the left. Click here to listen to our conversation with DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle.)

Johns said the process can take six months to a year. Once inspectors evaluate a program, its star rating goes on a new website, QualityRated.org.

Johns said programs in 131 of Georgia’s 159 counties are seeking certification. And she said parents should start asking questions if they’re considering a childcare center that isn’t volunteering to be rated.

“I’d want to know why,” Johns said. “Why aren’t you interested in participating in a state initiative where outside people are coming in and evaluating your program, providing excellent technical assistance to help you do a better job, where you can receive lots of incentives and benefits for participating? As a parent, as a consumer, I would say, ‘Why?’”

Among those incentives are grants of $4,000 to $6,000 to help programs who want to be rated. Businesses and foundations have donated about $5 million to fund those incentives.