Star ratings have pros, cons
BY GINNIE GRAHAM and CURTIS KILLMAN
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
9/04/07 at 4:41 PM
Visit the series Web site for A Question of Care: an investigation of the state’s day-care system
Going beyond the gut feeling
Records come with red tape
Children at risk
Many providers are spread too thin
Oklahoma's troubled child-care facilities
They dare to care
Counting the stars
Advocates push for updated incentives system to improve care
About 10 years ago, a swirl of child-care
concerns resulted in a revolutionary model
for the licensing division of the state Department of Human Services.
The stars rating system grew out of a combination of DHS' desire to increase child-care
subsidies, lawmakers' desire to improve quality care for low-income children and an overall understanding of brain research in infants
"It all came together to give DHS the support to launch this system," said Nancy vonBargen, the executive director of SmartStart
Oklahoma and a former DHS child-care support services supervisor, who helped establish the stars rating system.
A growing number of people are pushing
DHS to update and change the program.
"Now, the system is languishing, and it is
time for Oklahoma to revisit their program,"
vonBargen said. "We always had the hope it
would continue to raise the bar of quality."
Child-care providers have the option of participating in the rating system. Every facility
receives a one-star rating just for meeting
minimum licensing requirements.
To achieve a higher rating -- one-star plus,
two-star or three-star -- the provider has to
meet requirements such as obtaining more
education and training, setting up a curriculum and attaining a lower teacher-child ratio.
Providers end up spending more money to
move to a higher rating, which usually raises
the cost of care for parents.
Critics say the ratings should apply to all
providers and not be voluntary.
Also, DHS should consider incentives such
as salaries on par with local school districts,
said Jan Figart, the associate director of the
Community Service Council of Tulsa.
"There is a developing agreement out of
Tulsa that there needs to be a new way to
look at the stars system," Figart said.
Some fear that mandatory ratings would
send some providers underground or unfairly label good providers who do not want to
seek higher education.
VonBargen said, "The reason the rating
system has been so successful has been the
"People support high quality. But they
think differently about their center putting in
high quality standards to a point where they
can no longer afford it. Or, when the grandmother down the street can no longer meet
the requirements for a license."
The stars system has put pressure on providers to improve their services, vonBargen
said. Some providers who do not accept subsidies participate because of public pressure.
VonBargen said SmartStart Oklahoma is
convening a group to offer more support services to providers to improve quality.
"The entire industry has grown into the
professionalism of the stars system, and we
have more people than ever looking to acheive national accreditation," she said.
Despite the criticisms, DHS Director Howard Hendrick said the stars system is still a
"There may be good one-star homes providing quality care who do not want to mess
with the requirements in the rating system
and national accreditation," he said.
"People delivering high-quality one-star
care and do not want to move up are people
with relationships with the families they are
caring for. It's not a big deal to them because
they see no added value.
"Candidly, I don't think there are many
one-star providers in that category."
Growing talent -- DHS added the one-star
plus rating a few years ago to indicate whether a facility is actively working toward a higher rating.
Mark Lewis, the director of DHS' child-care services division, said the agency hoped
that the new category would eventually bring
all facilities to that level as a minimum standard.
"In an industry based on lower wages and a
lack of benefits to hire in qualified teachers,
we made a conscious effort to grow talent
within the industry and provide a lot of support to do that," he said.
Hendrick said two approaches have been
made to bring up the quality among the lower-rated facilities.
DHS started the Scholars Program to encourage child-care providers to enter the
state's two-year colleges for an associate's degree or a certificate of mastery. About 1,000
people have entered the program.
"Higher education ought to take this as an
opportunity to grow as a state institution,"
Hendrick said. "It is a first step to get people
into higher education."
DHS also increased the subsidy payments
to pay providers more money as they
achieved quality benchmarks. Subsidies are
for low-income children in care. The subsidy
budget has increased from about $73 million
in 1998 to $140 million this year.
"We are not asking providers to take in
more kids," Hendrick said. "We want to train
people and pay them better wages, decrease
turnover and retain the work force."
DHS officials point to the number of providers who have achieved national accreditation with these supports. Since 2001, accredited child-care centers in Oklahoma have
increased from fewer than 20 to more than
Lewis said, "It is probably time we take a
look at the stars (system) to see where we
are with the requirements and what the capacity of child-care is right now.
"Of all the facilities in the state, the number
of ones with problems is a small percentage
of the industry. There are some really good
people out there providing care for children."
By the numbers
25,000 - People working in the child-care industry
77 - Age of the oldest one-star home provider in Tulsa County
22 - Age of youngest one-star home provider in Tulsa County
45 - Average age of one-star home provider in Tulsa County
53 - Percentage of one-star home providers in Tulsa with a high school education
8 - Percentage of one-star home providers with less than a high school education
29 - Percentage of one-star home providers with some college education
10 - Percentage of one-star home providers with at least a bachelor’s degree
1971 - Founding year of the longest-operating one-star home in Tulsa County