Georgia to Begin Early Child Care Program Assessments: Department Commissioner

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Calling children aged 5 and younger the state’s youth population most in need of stability at an Emory University School of Law event held Friday in Atlanta, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) Commissioner Bobby Cagle discussed several strategies his agency is pursuing to improve outcomes.

“It’s surprising to me that the national discussion has not gotten to the 0 to 5 population,” he said during the presentation, titled “Young Brains and Education: What is the Return on Investment for High Quality Child Care?

DECAL has spent a year implementing a new quality rating and improvement system, Cagle said. Child care centers that volunteer to participate in the program are eligible for increased subsidies based on performance evaluations.

As part of a tiered quality rating improvement system (TQRIS), Cagle said the department will focus on improving standards, accountability and supports for programs and providers of early childhood education and care.

Among the technical supports the program are onsite coaching, professional development and baseline environmental rating scales. Bonuses, ranging in value from $4,000 to $8,000 per facility, will be provided for centers that improve their quality level ratings.

The new system, called Quality Rated, will incorporate privately-funded financial incentives, Cagle said.

“We have a goal of raising $18.1 million in the first four years of this,” he continued. “We’re at about $4.6 million at this point, in the first two years.”

Cagle said consumer education will also be a component of Quality Rated and a $2 million statewide public awareness campaign is currently in development.

Cagle hopes the Quality Rated seal becomes emblematic of a new systemic approach to improve early education programs in Georgia. So far, more than 1,000 programs--representing nearly 20 percent of all early child care centers and providers within the state--have applied to participate.

The state’s first official quality ratings are scheduled to be released on July 1, 2013.

According to DECAL data, an estimated 84,232 children are enrolled in programs currently waiting to be assessed by Quality Rated. Of that population, Cagle said more than 11,000 are receiving subsidies from PeachCare--a state program that offers free or low-cost health insurance to children--while an additional 13,000 are receiving Childcare and Parents Services (CAPS) subsidies.

“There is a quality cost that we are trying to quantify right now,” he said. “But it’s above what it requires to provide just good health and safety.”

Photo credit: District of Columbia Public Schools