How Preschool Works in Missouri

Takeaway: Center-based care, along with two different forms of home-based care, are all tightly regulated and inspected by the state. Missouri places no restrictions on unlicensed programs, however — nor on corporal punishment with a guardian’s advance permission. Missouri’s underfunded public pre-K program sends more than 30 percent of kids to kindergarten unprepared. Its universal pre-K initiative, due to lack of funds, is unlikely to get off the ground. Though the state boasts an online search feature, this is not as robust as those found in other states.

Overview

Missouri’s child care provider search filters results by location and facility type, and displays contact information, capacity, and operating hours, along with (occasionally) inspection history. Its FAQ page provides a succinct centralized resource from which families are able to glean important facts at a glance.

In terms of tuition-free preschool offerings, Missouri has a public pre-K program — but with more than 1,000 children on waiting lists in Kansas City alone, four percent enrollment statewide among 4-year-olds, and extreme underfunding, the program is not considered a success. About a third of all children who enter kindergarten aren’t ready to be there — and among kids from low-income families, this figure rises to more than 50 percent. The state legislature has attempted to introduce universal pre-K for for all children ages 3 to 5, but with a proposed cost of close to $1 billion, it’s unlikely to happen soon.

Center-Based Care

Center-based care must take place in any facility outside of the provider’s residence. In order to operate legally, both facilities and providers must be licensed, a process that involves inspections for fire safety and environmental sanitation (yearly) and for compliance with all state child care regulations (twice a year).

The Department of Health and Senior Services determines capacity according to the physical space of the facility and the qualifications of the director, but centers must still maintain certain required staff-to-child ratios: 1:4 for kids from birth to 2 years old (with no more than eight kids), 1:8 for 2-year-olds (and no more than 16 total), 1:10 for 3- to 5-year-olds (with no cap on group size), and 1:16 for kids ages 5 and older (again, with no maximum group size). Mixed-age groups must comply with more specific ratios, which may be found on page 22 of the state’s official licensing rules for child care centers.

Child care center capacities range from 20 to nearly 300 (though it’s worth noting that the state’s search feature turned up centers with student counts in the single digits).

The education requirements directors of such facilities vary according to the size of the center. The least stringent are 30 college semester-hours (six in child-related coursework) or 12 months of experience (with six semester-hours in relevant coursework) or a Child Development Associate credential. Those operating the largest centers must have 120 semester-hours (with at least 24 in relevant courses and six in business or management) or four years of experience with at least 24 college semester-hours (six of which must have been in business or management). Regulations also mandate that at least one staff member with CPR and first-aid training be on duty at all times while care is being provided.

Home-Based Care

There are two types of licensed family care: family home care and group home care. Family home care programs include ten or fewer students, and group home care programs include 20 or fewer. Only children unrelated to the provider count toward these totals.

While group home care facilities must follow the exact same licensing and regulation standards as child care centers (they use the same regulation manual), family home care facilities have their own set of rules. Just like other forms of licensed care, they must subject themselves to yearly fire safety and environmental sanitation inspections, and twice-yearly regulation inspections (any of which may be announced or unannounced during normal business hours). They, too, must have someone on duty at all times who has been trained in CPR and first aid. The only major differences between family home care and other forms of licensed care are required staff-to-child ratios. Each facility is licensed on a case-by-case basis to provide care for a set number of kids. In other words, the rules that appear below may not be in effect for every provider. Be sure to ask what a given facility’s licensed capacity is. What follows are the absolute maximums allowed by law.

When there is only one provider present, that person may care for up to six children (provided three or fewer are under the age of 2). The provider may also care for up to ten children (if two or fewer are under the age of 2). If all of the kids are under age 2, a provider may care for a maximum of four children. If a facility employs an assistant, it may provide care for up to ten kids, with four under age 2. It may also care for eight children, all of whom could be under age 2.

While family home care providers do not have to hold formal credentials or degrees, they must participate in at least 12 hours of state-approved child care–related education or training every year while they’re licensed. Assistants who work for more than five hours a week must meet the same requirements.

Unlicensed Care

Though they must still be regulated, all programs controlled solely by religious organizations and those responsible for four or fewer hours per child per day are license-exempt — pending approval from the state. License-exempt programs may set their own staff-to-child ratios and must subject themselves to annual inspections for compliance, fire safety, and environmental sanitation.

Some other types of programs also needn’t be licensed or regulated. One example of such a program is an individual who cares for up to four unrelated children. Others may be found in hospitals, at summer camps, in programs affiliated with businesses (catering either to their employees or their customers) that tend to kids for less than four hours a day, in facilities under the purview of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, or in elementary, secondary, or boarding schools. Programs like this do not have to comply with any training or age requirements, and may even permit corporal punishment with prior approval from a parent or guardian.

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