How Preschool Works in Indiana

Takeaway: Indiana’s newly revamped preschool program has made relevant information much more accessible to parents. Its two online search features allow families to search by location, and they display results including user reviews, licensing and contact information, and hours of operation. Though center-based and family-based care providers are inspected, religious facilities and summer and day camps are exempt from such oversight.

Overview

Indiana has a unique and progressive preschool program that was recently rebuilt in order to raise the standard of early childhood education and make quality pre-K more readily available. The state has a unique rating system — called Paths to Quality — that categorizes preschool programs by the services they provide. Level-1 programs are often new programs that have met basic health and safety standards. Level-2 programs are able to present a consistent daily schedule, structured activities for children, and relevant information to parents. Level-3 programs demonstrate a significant investment in the professional development of their staff and make a concerted effort to incorporate family participation. Level-4 programs are the highest-rated, are nationally accredited, and have the greatest levels of professionalism in child learning and school readiness.

Programs volunteer to be rated: 60,000 pre-K services have participated thus far. Indiana recently launched a state pre-K pilot program in five counties called On My Way Pre-K. Institutions must be Level-3 or -4 programs and must submit semi-annual kindergarten readiness assessments in order to participate.

Indiana has two different searches: a database search and a Paths to Quality search. The database search organizes by city/county and provides licensing info, hours of operation, and contact information. The Paths to Quality search, on the other hand, requires registration and displays results regarding the quality of care (in the form of stars). This search omits schools that have not volunteered for the Paths to Quality rating system, however.

Center-Based Care

Indiana defines a child care center as any dedicated facility in which at least one child receives compensated care for more than four hours a day on a consecutive basis. All licensed providers must pass a Department of Health and Safety inspection and a Department of Fire and Building Services inspection prior to licensure. They must also give kids 35 square feet apiece indoors (50 for infants) and 75 square feet apiece outdoors. Licensees must attend two orientation training sessions, and submit written plans for both food service and health programs.

The directors of child care centers must hold a college degree — including 15 credit hours in early childhood development — and an unspecified amount of experience working in child care. Lead teachers in such facilities must hold either a child development associate credential or its equivalent, a bachelor’s in either early childhood or elementary education (with a GPA of at least 2.0), or a bachelor’s in a different field but that still includes 15 credit hours of coursework in subjects relating to the care and education of kids under the age of 6 (with a 2.0 GPA or higher). Another option for lead teachers is an associate’s degree in early childhood education (again, with at least a 2.0 GPA).

Indiana also requires certain staff-to-child ratios to be in effect, and these are dictated by the youngest child in a given group. For children under 16 months, child care centers must maintain a ratio of one staff member to four children (the state’s literature says 4:1, but presumably this should be flipped). For toddlers (which the state describes as at least 16 months old and walking) and 2-year-olds, an acceptable ratio is 1:5. Three-year-olds have a ratio of 1:10, 4-year-olds a ratio of 1:12, and 5-year-olds a ratio of 1:15.

Home-Based Care

Home-based care, also called family care, is defined the exact same way as center-based care, with the sole difference being that care takes place in a residential home. There are two types of family-based care: class I family care and class II family care. Class I family care includes groups of six to 12 children; class II family care is for groups of 12 to 16 children. Class I homes must include enough space for kids to both sleep and play; class II facilities must allow each child 34 square feet.

All licensees must attend two orientation training sessions and a safe sleep training session. They must also subject their homes to inspection and a drinking water test (if they have a private well). Administrators must hold at least a high school diploma or a GED and a child development associate credential or its equivalent.

Just like child care centers, child care homes must maintain acceptable staff-to-child ratios (which are determined by the kids’ ages). Any infants under 16 months require a ratio of 1:4. For a group including both infants and toddlers (if two of six are at least 16 months and capable of walking), staff must uphold a 1:6 ratio. For mixed-age groups with three or fewer infants, caregivers must keep a 1:10 ratio. And for a group with mixed ages but none younger than 3, they must maintain a 1:12 ratio.

Unlicensed Care

Any child care facility operated by a church or religious ministry that is exempt from federal income taxation is able to operate without license, though it must register with Indiana’s Division of Family Resources. While they too must register, programs that meet infrequently (fewer than 90 days per year), including summer camps and day camps, are also exempt. Any child care home providers who do not receive regular compensation and care either for their own children or fewer than six children do not have to apply for a license, but must still register. The same goes for facilities that operate to serve migrant children.

Though attendance is not mandatory, the state recommends orientation training sessions to unlicensed providers. Such programs must also subject themselves to fire inspection and water tests if the Division of Family Resources feels that these are necessary.

Discover Indiana preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind.