Policy Resource

Montana Field Testing Best Beginnings STARS to Quality Program

Feb 9, 2016

Quality Improvement resource information on state policies and initiatives that impact infants, toddlers and their families

In October 2010, Montana began field testing a revised quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) that aligns research-based quality indicators with workforce development, financial incentives, and support for early childhood programs and professionals. Best Beginnings STARS to Quality is a voluntary five-star QRIS that incorporates the tiers of the Center for Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) pyramid model into its star levels. Other criteria include requirements for staff education, family engagement, and scoring on environmental and program administration rating scales.* The system was developed by a diverse group of early childhood stakeholders over a period of three years.

In addition to the revised rating system, STARS offers multiple sources of support to programs and professionals. Each participating program is assigned a coach through their local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency to provide guidance on STARS criteria and assist with quality improvement planning. Programs also received STAR Kits containing written resources and sample assessment forms at the beginning of the field test. Several training modules, including one targeting infant-toddler caregivers and one focused on implementation of early learning guidelines, are also being offered to help programs meet the various STARS requirements. Other sources of support include mentoring for early childhood programs pursuing accreditation and access to health consultation.

Several monetary incentives have also been 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 number of children served and star level) were available to programs at levels two through five during the first field test. Programs can use this money for staff support and salaries, equipment, and quality improvement activities. Facilities serving families receiving child care subsidies will also be 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 Professional Development Incentive Awards, will continue to be available during and after the transition to STARS.

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 programs effectiveness and address any challenges that arose before phasing out the 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 received additional unexpected 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 are eligible to receive incentives. There are 101 programs participating in the field test at various levels.

The project launched statewide in April of 2013. By January of 2016 over 200 early childhood care providers were participating in the program.

For more information visit the Montana Early Childhood Services Bureau website at: http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/hcsd/childcare/.

*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 January 2016

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