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Southwest Florida Gains Rating System for Early Learning, Child Care

Families in Southwest Florida soon will have a way to judge the quality of their local child-care providers now that a new rating system is underway.

The Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida announced this week that it has created its own quality rating improvement system, or QRIS, known as the Southwest Florida Stars program. Participation in the program is open to early-learning and child-care centers in Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties that contract with the coalition, according to Kathleen Reynolds, the group's executive director.

The coalition, which serves about 14,000 children in southwest Florida, is one of 31 across the state mandated by the legislature to work on increasing the quality and availability of early-education opportunities for kids in their service areas. The coalitions are charged with developing and administering comprehensive school readiness programs and voluntary prekindergarten programs to prepare kids for school. Other coalitions in Florida have their own QRIS systems, as well as have numerous states.

Reynolds said Thursday that the state's Association of Early Learning Coalitions has agreed on common variables for rating systems, but has determined that the development of such systems depends on local needs. "It's very hard in a diverse state like Florida, where coalitions evolve depending on local needs, to have a uniform format," she said.

The Southwest Florida Stars program will assess providers on criteria including "health and safety conditions; the learning environment and interactions between teachers and students in the classroom; the use of screening and child assessment results to plan appropriate curriculum; the extent of professional development participation and the quality of the teaching staff; adherence to professional responsibilities; and the extent of family and community relationships that the child-care facility maintains," Reynolds wrote in a guest column appearing on naplesnews.com.

The 450 or so providers that contract with the coalition can apply this year to be assessed and will receive a ranking of one to five stars, with five stars being the gold standard. Ratings won't be available until next summer.

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