Two freshman House lawmakers from different sides of the aisle came together Tuesday to announce the introduction of legislation aimed at improving the identification of quality child care facilities in Pennsylvania.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) and Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia), would require all child care providers in Pennsylvania to list their Keystone STARS (Standards, Training/Professional Development, Assistance, Resources) rating either in the window of their facility or on a publicly accessible website in order to help parents identify quality facilities.
The Keystone STARS program is operated under the state Department of Human Services’ Office of Child Development and Early Education.
Its main function is to rate child care facilities from one to four stars based on the facility’s ability to meet certain benchmarks. Additional stars can be added as facilities achieve new benchmarks and higher ratings in the fields of staff education, the facility’s learning environment, leadership management at the child care facility and family and community partnerships.
This past summer, all licensed child care facilities that meet the state’s health and safety requirements were entered into the Keystone STARS program and facilities not previously participating in the facility-improvement program were started off at the lowest rating of one star.
While it is optional for facilities to post department-made signs showing off their rating, there is no current mandate.
“To help parents and kids with decisions on where to go and what to do with the Keystone STARS program, we thought it should be displayed properly, put on websites and made visible to parents to make that tough decision of where they want to go what they want to do and what daycare they want to put their children in to,” said Mehaffie.
“With this four-star program, by putting it in a window or putting it on a website, I think it gives them an idea what kind of quality daycare they are putting their child in at this point in time.”
Solomon, noting his own upbringing with family-based care led by a hands-on mother who taught special education, said not all families are as informed of what is required to ensure or how to find quality early childhood education for their children.
He noted that of the 76 facilities in the Keystone STARS program in his district, only three of them sport the highest rating.
“When a parent is looking for the best option for their child, that’s problematic,” he said. “While convenience and cost are important, quality is critical and that’s where our bill comes in, to specifically focus on that decision of quality of care.”
The two lawmakers noted that the bill has been vetted with key early childhood education stakeholders and, speaking to the merits of the bill, Tyrone Scott of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children noted how important the bill’s requirements will be in helping parents decide on an appropriate facility for their child.
“We are not just talking about star ratings; we are talking about people’s children,” he said. “As we talk about informing families, as we talk about providing child care teachers an opportunity to show they are highly qualified, as we talk about providing the general public with this information…it’s important we have something like this.”
The legislation, currently designated as House Bill 1742, was referred to the House Children and Youth Committee in late August.
While the bill has yet to be scheduled for either a hearing or a committee vote, both Mehaffie and Solomon said they have engaged committee chairmen Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks) and Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) about making the issue a priority.
Both of those chairmen are among the bipartisan group of 17 cosponsors of the legislation.
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg Bureau Chief of The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania’s government.