How Preschool Works in Minnesota

Takeaway: Minnesota has clear licensing requirements and oversight at the state level for center-based facilities and at the county level for home-based facilities. Unlicensed care is legal in limited cases, though illegal child care centers do exist throughout the state. There is limited public preschool available through Head Start.

Overview

Minnesota offers two forms of licensed care: center-based care and family care. Licensed center care and licensed family care follow most of the same guidelines and restrictions, but they differ in terms of oversight: The state oversees child care centers, while the counties oversee family care centers. Publicly-funded preschool programs are available through Head Start and Early Head Start.

Center-Based Care

All center-based preschool programs in Minnesota are required to be licensed. There are various requirements for different age categories: infants (at least six weeks, less than 16 months), toddlers (at least 16 months, less than 33 months), and preschoolers (at least 33 months, not yet in kindergarten). The required caregiver-to-student ratios vary; they are 1:4 (maximum group size of 8) for infants, 1:7 for toddlers (maximum group size of 14), and 1:10 (maximum group size of 20) for preschoolers.

All centers must have at least one teacher. After that, the second staff member hired must be at least qualified as an aide; the third at least as an assistant teacher; and the fourth at least as an aide. To be qualified as teachers, each provider needs a high school diploma; 4,160 hours of experience as an assistant teacher; and 24 quarter credits in a child care–related field. All assistant teachers must work under the supervision of the teacher and need a high school diploma; 2,080 hours of experience as an aide; and 12 quarter credits in a child care–related field. Aides must be at least 16, but if they’re under age 18, then they must be under direct supervision by an assistant teacher or teacher.

Upon kids’ enrollment, parents are entitled access to written policies for numbers/ages of children served, educational methods, behavioral and philosophical ideology, parent rights, sick child policies, first aid/medication administration, rules pertaining to pets, visiting procedures, and other processes. Students who thrive in structured programs and large groups — and parents who are seeking out curricula and policies with relatively high levels of structure — are typically best-suited for center-based care.

Home-Based Care

Counties determine which homes are suitable for family care, oversee caregiver qualifications, ensure that proper records are kept, and determine both caregiver-to-child ratios and behavioral procedures. This type of care is often best for those who favor flexible hours, mixed-age groups, and homey environments. Designed to provide one-on-one caregiving, in-home child care facilities may only have one caregiver (and a correspondingly limited number of children) on hand.

Home-based providers must make certain information available to parents, including the numbers/ages of children in care, meals/snacks served and food labeling requirements, sleeping arrangements, policies regarding sick children, logs of emergency fire and other drills, plans for helpers or substitutes, presence of pets, and whether or not smoking is permitted in the residence.

Unlicensed Care

Families can also pursue legal unlicensed care — in which the caregivers are often family, friends, or neighbors. Unlicensed care is often more local, affordable, and flexible. To be legal, unlicensed care must take place for a short period of time during the year, be provided by relatives, or be provided to children from the same family. Such informal programs do not have to meet the same health, safety, and procedural requirements that licensed programs do. In addition, caregivers do not need to meet formal training standards, and student vaccination and other records do not have to be kept. There are also illegally unlicensed child care service providers who may have too many children, unsafe facilities, underqualified caregivers, or some combination of these.

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