The state has backed away from its planned July start date for a new mandatory quality rating system for early childhood education and officials now say they are aiming for a November launch.
“We very much hope we won’t come across any unforeseen time challenges,” said Karen Enboden, manager of the new system for the Colorado Department of Human Services.
The new system, funded with part of a $44 million federal Race to the Top grant, fits with a national trend to improve child care and better inform parents about the quality of local providers.
While the state recently selected the technology vendor that will build the new system—the Boulder-based Vertiba—there are still a number of unanswered questions about the new system, including its permanent name. Currently, it is being called the Next Generation Quality Rating and Improvement System, but Enboden said a new name and logo will probably be unveiled in July.
It’s also unclear at the moment which contractor will be selected to administer the three highest ratings under the new five-level system. An earlier bid process for the contractor was cancelled by the state in the spring, and responses to a second RFP aren’t due till June 13. The well-regarded non-profit Qualistar runs the state’s current rating system and administrators there plan to submit a proposal to be the ratings contractor under the new system.
Heather Tritten, Qualistar’s interim president and CEO, said, “We’re hoping we’re the only ones.”
Under Qualistar’s current system, which is voluntary and fee-based, providers can earn up to four stars. Currently, fewer than 10 percent of the state’s licensed providers have Qualistar ratings.
Under the new free system, which will ultimately impact around 4,800 licensed providers, there will be five levels of quality instead of four. The lowest level will require simply that providers be licensed.
Providers can advance to level two if they complete a self-assessment, create an improvement plan, and have staff members complete online trainings and enroll in the state’s online professional development registry. Levels three, four and five will require a site visit similar to the ones Qualistar raters conduct now, though components and scoring methodology will be a little different.
The new system, which will be fully implemented by December 2016, is expected to roll out in several phases. The first phase, expected to unfold when the system goes live in late fall, will award ratings to about 600 providers that either have a soon-to-be expired Qualistar rating or qualify for what’s called an “Alternate Pathway,” which allows them to be grandfathered into level three or four ratings provided their staff participate in the new professional development registry. In early 2015, a parent portal will be created so the new ratings are accessible to the public.
While the Next Generation system has been in the works since 2010, awareness among providers varies.
“There are some providers that are really in tune with this…There are providers who have no idea this is coming,” Tritten said.