Policy Resource

Montana Best Beginnings STARS to Quality Program

Feb 9, 2016

In October 2010, Montana began field testing a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), STARS to Quality, that aligns research-based quality indicators with workforce development, financial incentives, and support for early childhood programs and professionals.

The Best Beginnings STARS to Quality Program is a voluntary quality rating and improvement system that aligns quality indicators with support and incentives for early childhood programs and early childhood professionals. Criteria include requirements for staff education, family engagement, and scoring on environmental and program administration rating scales.* The mission of STARS to Quality is “To support high quality early care and education programs for child care and education through a quality rating and improvement system that strengthens programs and practitioners with continuous improvement strategies and assists families to make informed decisions.” The Early Childhood Services Bureau has listened carefully to early childhood professionals, parents, and national experts to provide a strong program, desired by many.

In addition to the rating system, STARS offers multiple sources of support to programs and professionals. Each participating program is assigned a STARS consultant through their local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency to provide guidance on STARS criteria and assist with quality improvement planning. Once a program ready to move to STAR 3, a STARS Coach will begin working with the program, specifically around implementation of Pyramid Model practices. Programs also have access to STAR Kits, which contain resources specific to much of the criteria, as well as specific forms that may be required for some criteria. These kits are designed to assist programs in understanding and preparing for criteria at each STAR level. Several professional development offerings, including a 60-hour course targeting infant-toddler teachers, and one focused on implementation of the MT Early Learning Standards, are also required across the STAR levels to help programs meet the various STARS requirements.

Monetary incentives are built into the STARS program to motivate movement up the program quality and professional development ladders. Quality Improvement Awards (ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 depending on the program type and children served and STAR level) are available to programs at levels two through five. Programs can use this money for staff support and salaries, equipment, and quality improvement activities. Programs are required to put a certain percentage towards personnel at each STAR level (beginning at 20% of the total budget at STAR 2, up to 50% of the total budget at STAR 5). Facilities serving families receiving child care subsidies are also eligible for increased reimbursement rates at higher STAR levels (ranging from a 5% increased reimbursement at star two to a 20% increased reimbursement at star five). The many workforce incentives Montana already has in place, such as the Infant/Toddler Continuity of Care Stipend and Course Completion Awards for both the 60-hour Certified Infant Toddler Caregiver and Certified Preschool Teacher Course, are available to any individual working in a licensed/registered facility and are not exclusive to STARS to Quality programs.

For the first field test, 72 programs participated in the STARS program and received incentives. 18 early childhood programs representing centers, group homes, and family child care homes were selected for each of the 4 assigned quadrants (Missoula/Kalispell Region, Bozeman/Butte/Helena Region, Great Falls/Havre/Lewistown Region, Billings/Glasgow/Glendive/Miles City Region). The Early Childhood Services Bureau of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which administers the program, used this period to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and address any challenges that arose before phasing out the former two-star tiered reimbursement QRIS system at the end of 2010. Beginning in January 2011, programs could begin applying for awards and certificates under the established STARS program; in April 2011, incentives and higher reimbursement rates in accord with STARS were released.

In May 2012, at a STARS event for directors, there was a unanimous vote to extend the field test. The Early Childhood Services Bureau (ECSB) received additional funding in early 2013 which allowed for the planning and implementation of a Phase II for the field test. Applications were due by February 20, 2013, and the ECSB selected 30 programs from the applications for Phase II. All programs selected for Phase II were eligible to receive incentives. At that time, there were 101 programs participating in the field test at various levels.

The project launched statewide in April of 2013, meaning that any licensed program could apply to participate. After receiving one-time only funding through 3 Legislative Sessions, funding for STARS to Quality was approved in the Governor’s general budget during the 2017 Legislative Session. Currently, there are almost 250 programs participating in STAR to Quality, which is over 30% of all licensed programs in the state. Of those participating, over 200 programs have achieved a STAR level.

Montana is currently reevaluating the entire program and will be implementing program and system-wide changes over the next 2 years. It is a goal to increase participation in STARS to Quality by 100 programs over the next 3 years.

For more information visit the Montana Early Childhood Services Bureau website at: www.stars.mt.gov.

*Montana is using several established environmental and administrative rating scales including: the Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care (BAS), the Program Administration Scale for Family Child Care (PAS), the Family Day Care Rating Scale-Revised (FCCERS-R), the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R), and the Infant Toddler Environmental Rating Scale-Revised (ITERS-R).

Updated November 2019