Unequal Opportunities for Preschoolers: Differing Standards for Licensed Child Care Centers and State-Funded Pre-K Programs

February 19, 2009

February 20, 2009

Arlington, VA - The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) released a report today comparing standards that affect 3 - and 4-year-old preschoolers in licensed child care centers to standards for state-fund prekindergarten programs. In the report, Unequal Opportunities for Preschoolers, NACCRRA used the quality standards checklist developed by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) to rate state-funded prekindergarten initiatives. Head Start program standards and Department of Defense (DoD) regulations for military child care were also included in each of the 10 benchmarks.

NACCRRA found that preschoolers in licensed child care centers receive unequal early learning experiences based on varying child care standards. This is a direct result of states setting the bar at different levels in terms of funding, regulation and monitoring of child care programs. Although parents assume that children in licensed child care centers receive similar learning opportunities as those in state-funded prekindergarten programs, our findings revealed a different reality. Children in state-funded prekindergarten programs were more likely to be in classrooms that met higher standards in class size, staff-child ratios, and staff training and education. The state where a child lives, coupled with the family’s income level, also determined the child’s chances of benefiting from state or federally-funded programs.

"The majority of young children with working mothers in America today are in child care centers. Their parents think that all center-based settings offer comparable learning environments," said Linda K. Smith, Executive Director of NACCRRA. "It is really short-sighted on behalf of the states to set lower thresholds for child care centers and this stark gap would be shocking if parents knew."

Our research dictates that child care standards should be stronger, as evidenced by some of our key findings regarding licensed child care centers: no states require licensed child care programs to incorporate the use of the early learning guidelines into their program practices (41 state-funded prekindergarten initiatives met this benchmark); no states have a child care licensing regulation requiring lead classroom teachers to have a bachelor’s degree (28 state-funded prekindergarten programs in 23 states require lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree); and no states require assistant teachers to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential (11 programs in 11 states require prekindergarten assistant teachers to have a CDA or equivalent credential).

While child care licensing regulations in most states fail to provide the impetus for the high-quality child care that state-funded prekindergarten programs mandate, the setting where the majority of preschoolers attend cannot be ignored. Slightly more than 1 million attend state-funded prekindergarten programs in comparison to more than 4.7 million 3- and 4-year old children in licensed child care centers each week.

"The way it is now, state standards focus only on the small fraction of young children who are able to participate in part-day, part-year pre-k programs," said Smith. "If our nation’s goal is really to enable all children to start school on a more even par, then working parents should not tolerate this gap leaving their children behind."

To close the gap in child care standards, NACCRRA recommends that states improve licensing requirements, continue to work toward an integrated system of care and education, and tie Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding to greater accountability for quality and monitoring efforts. NACCRRA proposes that strengthening the child care licensing standards and oversight in all 50 states is one of the most effective ways to accomplish these goals.

For a full copy of the report, visit www.naccrra.org. For detailed information about data and regulations in individual states, please visit the following websites:

  1. State Fact Sheetshas the most recent child care data by state.
  2. We Can Do Betterstate sheets lists state child care center standards and oversight.
  3. Leaving Children to Chancestate sheets list state standards and oversight for family child homes.

*Additional information will be included in an upcoming NACCRRA report, We Can Do Better - 2009 Update: NACCRRA’s Ranking of State child Care Center Standards and Oversight.


NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, is our nation's leading voice for child care. We work with more than 800 state and local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies to ensure that families in every local community have access to high quality, affordable childcare. To achieve our mission, we lead projects that increase the quality and availability of child care professionals, undertake research, and advocate child care policies that positively impact the lives of children and families. To learn more about NACCRRA and how you can join us in ensuring access to high-quality child care for all families, visit us at www.naccrra.org