ATLANTA - Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday encouraged more child care and early education programs to join Georgia's Quality Rated assessment program, calling it an invaluable aid to parents and a tool for creating a better workforce of the future.
The governor joined Bobby Cagle, Commissioner for Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, at a news conference recognizing more than 230 child care programs that were among the first to be ranked by Quality Rated. First lady Sandra Deal also took part.
"We are growing tomorrow's workforce through this process," the governor said at the gathering at the Georgia State Capitol.
Quality Rated is a voluntary system that assesses the quality of early care and education programs through ratings, ranging from one to three stars, to indicate how these programs exceed the state's minimum licensing requirements. The goal: to help parents choose the right program for their child's early education.
"I encourage parents to ask if their program is Quality Rated," Cagle said. "If not, why not?"
The state's Department of Early Care and Learning launched Quality Related in January 2012 based on research showing that the quality of care children receive in early care environments greatly impacts their physical, mental and academic development.
Ratings went public on July 1. Within two weeks, the rating website had more than 3,000 visits.
Nearly 1,100 early care programs joined Quality Rated last year and about 200 additional programs joined this year. Combined, the programs account for more than 102,000 children in early child care programs. But officials say they hope more programs to join from around the state.
Officials plan to heavily promote the program statewide through radio, TV, online and other advertising.
"It is so exciting to see our children learning so young," said the first lady, who told stories of her experiences across the state with children learning to read. "We want every child to have that skill as they go forward."
Sandra Deal, whose parents were both educators, taught for years. She regularly visits schools throughout Georgia while talking about the benefits of early education, good nutrition and proper exercise. Her "Read Across Georgia" initiative aims to increase the percentage of children reading at grade level by third grade.
Laura Johns, director of Quality Initiatives at the Department of Early Care and Learning, said 50 applications were sent in Tuesday for Quality Related.
"We have not had any challenges in recruiting people to participate," Johns said. She added that the department will seek to get back quickly with applicants and provide them with a high level of technical assistance.
After applying for orientation, programs receive notification of their quality level within six months to one year based on what assistance they need. Some programs have received their rating in as little as three months. The process includes submitting an online application, receiving technical assistance and completing an online portfolio.
"We are not rushing programs," Johns said. "We want to let them be very thoughtful throughout the process."
Rated programs receive bonuses, reaching up to a ten-percent bonus for three-star programs, in state and federal reimbursements received from Georgia's Childcare and Parent Services Program, which provides subsidized child care for low income families.
The incentive portion of Quality Related, including all bonus packages, is funded through private dollars. A little more than $6 million has been raised in the past two years. The rest of the program is managed by state employees under federal funds, which has not increased its budget for the program.
"Now programs can set themselves apart," Johns said. "I think that says a lot to parents and gives them a marketing advantage."