How Preschool Works in Maryland

Takeaway: Maryland has a strict approval and oversight process for regulated preschool; it involves a range of government bodies, such as the fire department, as well as health and environmental agencies. Very few preschool programs are exempt from state regulatory procedures. The state offers a basic search tool that allows families to filter by location and facility type. Maryland hopes to implement universal pre-K by 2022.

Overview

Maryland oversees both center-based and home-based preschools, the former undergoing licensure, and the latter, registration. Maryland’s preschool search tool is basic, with filters for facility type, county, city, and zip code. Results display contact information, capacity, and detailed reports of inspection history. The state recently released a helpful child care mapping tool, which allows residents to visualize the location of care facilities near their homes or schools. Maryland has also been slowly developing a universal pre-K program that some politicians propose will be fully functioning by 2022. What first started out as a public program for 29,000 low-income children has greatly expanded, thanks to a $4.3 million grant, a clear sign that the state is committed to adding more seats and to pursuing truly universal pre-K.

Center-Based Care

Maryland has two types of regulated preschool: center-based and home-based programs. Each of these two types is, in turn, divided into two different categories. All regulated programs must have prior approval from the Office of Child Care, the local fire department, the local zoning commission, and the state health and environmental agencies. Programs must provide opportunities for outdoor and indoor activities, and they must have procedures that are age-appropriate for the children served. Corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited. Children must have up-to-date emergency information, and each facility must post emergency and evacuation plans. Directors are required to have college-level accreditation in early childhood education, and all personnel must attend special annual training.

All centers must observe suitable caregiver-to-child ratios, which vary based on child age, and on whether children are placed in mixed-age groups. For same-age groups, the ratios are: for children ages 0 to 18 months, 1:3, with a maximum group size of six; for children ages 18 to 24 months, 1:3, with a maximum group size of nine; for 2-year-olds, 1:6, with a maximum group size of 12; for 3- and 4-year-olds, 1:10, with a maximum group size of 20; and for children ages 5 and up, 1:15, with a maximum group size of 30. For mixed-age groups, there must be two staff members for: groups that include one or two infants, with a maximum group size of nine; groups that include three or more infants, with a maximum group size of six; one or two toddlers, with a maximum group size of 12; and three toddlers, with a maximum group size of nine. There must be three staff members for groups that include four or more toddlers, with a maximum group size of nine; or groups that include no infants, one or two toddlers, and six or more two-year-olds, with a maximum group size of 12. There must be at least one CPR-certified caregiver for every 20 children.

Home-Based Care

Home-based facilities are subject to similar regulations and standards as child care centers, and personnel are required to have similar background and skills, including early childhood education experience, and first-aid and CPR certifications. That said, home-based facilities are registered rather than licensed. There are two types of home-based care: large family child care homes and family child care.

Large family child care homes are registered with the State Board of Education and serve between nine and 12 children. The provider and all employees must submit to background checks. The appropriate caregiver-to-child ratios are as follows: for 2-year-olds, 1:6; for 3- and 4-year-olds, 1:10; for children ages 5 and older, 1:12. For the aforementioned ages, the group size is never to exceed 12. When care is provided for infants, the group size is not to exceed six. In the instance of toddler care, the group size is not to exceed nine. Where there are mixed-age groups, different ratios apply. When there are one or two children under age 2 present, and if there is only one staff member, the group size may not exceed eight. When there are one or two children under age 2 present, and there are two staff members, the group size may not exceed 12. If between one and three 2-year-olds are present, and no toddlers or infants are present, the ratio is 1:10. If four or more 2-year-olds are present, and no toddlers or infants are present, the ratio is 2:12.

Family child care homes are also required to be registered, with a few exceptions: if the provider is a relative of each child being cared for; if the provider is a friend of each child’s parent, and care is given on a “nonregular basis,” not to exceed 20 hours per month; or if the provider is caring for the child due to a placement by the Department of Human Resources. If one caregiver is present, family child care is for a group of up to eight children, with no more than two children under age 2, unless the program is granted special permission. The provider’s own children, if they are under age 8, count toward this total. If two caregivers are present, the number of children under the age of 2 is not to exceed four.

Unlicensed Care

Maryland provides few exemptions for programs that may legally operate without a license. These programs are completely unregulated by the state and require no monitoring or oversight. Allowable programs include relative care, after-school programs, care that takes place in a child’s own home, or certain religiously-affiliated care.

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