Staff of Sunrise Kids, LLC, Preschool & Child Care, stand in front of the school Friday. In the front row, from left, are Donna Secules, Judi Whilden and Adriana Carrillo, and in the back row, from left, are Maureen Crawford, Kimberly Swenson, Pat Coyner and Jean Shelton.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Staff of Sunrise Kids, LLC, Preschool & Child Care, stand in front of the school Friday. In the front row, from left, are Donna Secules, Judi Whilden and Adriana Carrillo, and in the back row, from left, are Maureen Crawford, Kimberly Swenson, Pat Coyner and Jean Shelton.

Preschool earns high rating

Similar ratings may become mandatory for preschools, program manager says

Last month, Sunrise Kids, LLC, Preschool & Child Care came about three points away from obtaining a four-out-of-four-star rating from Qualistar Early Learning, owner and director Judi Whilden said.

Qualistar Early Learning is a nonprofit organization that rates preschool programs across the state.

But, the rating came before Sunrise Kids, a private enterprise, installed a new fence on the premises, Whilden said.

"I think we get really close" to earning Qualistar's highest rating, she said.

Qualistar ratings currently aren't a requirement for state-licensed preschool programs such as Sunrise Kids, said Sharon Butler, The Child Care Network program manager.

The Child Care Network provides resources for childcare providers in Moffat, Jackson, Rio Blanco and Routt counties and connects parents in those counties to licensed childcare programs.

In the future, however, obtaining quality ratings could cease to be optional for Colorado preschool programs.

It's possible that the state could require quality ratings in the future, Butler said.

Butler said that, to her knowledge, Sunrise Kids and the Moffat County School District's Early Childhood Center are the only two preschool programs in Moffat County that are Qualistar rated.

Butler and Whilden agreed that preschool programs could face more quality requirements in the future.

When Whilden took charge of Sunrise Kids 14 years ago, preschool programs' quality levels weren't as emphasized at state and federal levels as they are now, she said.

"They're doing a big push" for preschool providers to prove the quality of their programs, she said, "more than they used to."

The trend leaves preschool and childcare providers such as Whilden looking for money to pay for those ratings.

At Sunrise Kids, obtaining a Qualistar rating this year meant forgoing national accreditation, Whilden said, which the program had maintained from 2000 until 2007.

Whilden said national accreditation can cost almost $1,000 annually.

"That's just to pay for the filing and the forms," she said. "That doesn't include any improvements you might need to make to reach accreditation levels."

The decision to choose a Qualistar rating over national accreditation largely was dictated by funding availability, Whilden said.

"I had to choose (between) accreditation that I paid for or Qualistar," she said, which was funded through The Child Care Network. "And, I went with the Qualistar" rating.

In the past, The Child Care Network has provided funding for preschool programs in Northwest Colorado to obtain a Qualistar rating, which cost $1,200 per room, Butler said.

Funding from The Child Care Network can pay for the rating itself and any training childcare providers need in preparation for the training.

Further grants are available that could help pay for any quality improvements identified by the rating, she said.

However, The Child Care Network, which gathers funding from multiple sources including those at the local, state and federal levels, won't be able to provide funding for Qualistar ratings during the 2009-10 fiscal year, Butler said.

She attributed the loss to a downturn in the economy.

"It's the face of the economic outlook in the United States right now," she said. "We just don't have the funding to pay for ratings."

Still, she said, The Child Care Network is able to connect preschool programs with other funding sources, including grants.

One such grant is available through the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, which provides funds for first-time quality ratings in preschool programs, Butler said.

The School District's Early Childhood Center obtained that grant this year to pay for its first Qualistar rating.

However, Whilden said, obtaining grants can be more difficult for private enterprises.

"When you're for profit like I am, there's a limited amount of grants you can apply for," she said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com.

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