This month, the Early Childhood Cabinet–along with a plethora of providers and advocates, as well as the occasional journalist–gathered to hear from a working group about the early childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).  In 2008, the Cabinet had embraced a version of the QRIS, but the economic downturn and lack of state funding—coupled with a more fundamental lack of government support for the QRIS–doomed the program to languish in oblivion. Now, QRIS is back. And this time, Governor Malloy wants to make sure it is a success.  Governor Malloy’s envoy to the cabinet, Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, gave the cabinet a deadline to give the governor a QRIS framework from which he could make his own policy recommendations.

Here is the problem QRIS is trying to fix:  Parents want the best preschool programs for their children, but they do not know how to find them.   In Connecticut, there are five different agencies that oversee developmental programs for three- and four-year olds.  Even the most enlightened and computer savvy parents have trouble distinguishing between “licensed” and “accredited” providers.  Parents whose first language is not English or who are low-income have even more difficulty navigating the various state bureaucracies to find quality preschool programs for their children. QRIS’ first job is to create a way for parents to find quality programs for their preschoolers.  There should be a single place on a state government website that summarizes each program by community:

  1. What kind of program is it? (i.e., home day care provider, day care center, Head Start, School Readiness, public school, or family non-licensed provider)
  2. What are its quality metrics? (i.e., number of children enrolled, teacher credentials, requirements for inspections, medical training for providers, physical space, and other safety parameters)
  3. Who pays for the programs (i.e., parent pay only, combination of parent/public, or all public)
  4. Have there been any problems with this program?
  5. Is there a connection established between this program and my child’s prospective kindergarten teacher?

QRIS’s second job is to make the early childhood system better for all children.  Currently, without a QRIS, although we know that these children need a quality program, we aren’t able to determine whether they have one or not.  After all, there are thousands of children who are in daily programs about which little is known in terms of safety or quality, and many of these children live in the state’s lowest achieving districts.  That’s why, once we are able to identify all of the early childhood providers, we will need to help them improve the quality of their programs.  Every child deserves the highest quality early childhood experience; the QRIS framework includes financial and other incentives to encourage providers to make their programs better. Connecticut stakeholders should support Governor Malloy’s efforts to ensure that we are provided with the crucial information about early childhood care and education settings. If this reform effort receives the support it needs to succeed, it will improve the overall quality of the en­tire child care system.