How Preschool Works in Montana

Takeaway: Licensing in Montana principally applies to center-based programs, which are differentiated based on the number of children in care. Licensing regulations do apply to religiously-affiliated providers (as is not the case in many other states). Home-based programs, by contrast, are required only to be registered, a status that comes with significantly less oversight. The state makes finding information about child care regulations difficult, and its search tool only allows users to filter by city. In terms of public early education opportunities, Montana’s pre-K system, both in quality and access, is one of the worst in the country. There is currently no state funding for these programs, though Governor Bullock has recently proposed a $37 million plan to broaden access.

Overview

Montana offers licensed center-based care (including for religiously-affiliated programs) and registered home-based care, the latter of which is subject to significantly less stringent regulations than the former. The state’s preschool-related resources are difficult to navigate and, in some cases, contain errors. (One of the official child care pages appears to misspell “experienced,” for instance.) Montana’s database search can only be searched by city. Results display limited information, namely inspection reports and capacity.

In terms of public offerings, Montana is one of ten states that provide no state funding for pre-K programs, though Governor Steve Bullock has proposed a $37 million plan to expand access to preschool over the next two years. Given that there is currenty no state program, Montana ranks among the worst states for pre-K program quality. Three-fifths of children in Montana are not enrolled in any kind of preschool program.

Center-Based Care

Child care centers provide care to 13 or more children. License inspections occur twice each year, and fire and safety inspections occur annually. Center directors and primary caregivers are required to have education credentials in early childhood development or experience in child care. All personnel are required to attend eight hours of annual professional training, and they must possess adult, child, and infant CPR as well as first aid certifications. In Montana, these licensing rules also apply to religiously-affiliated providers.

Home-Based Care

There are two types of home-based care: group homes and family homes. Both programs are required to be registered, not licensed. Registration means that programs face less regulatory oversight and are not subject to the same degree of rigorous standards as licensed programs. Group homes have two caregivers who provide care for seven to 12 children, with no more than six under the age of 2. Group home providers conduct self-assessments for health, safety, and child care standards; they must also attend an orientation. Family homes, in which a single provider cares for no more than six children, are slightly smaller. Parents are encouraged to assist in the monitoring and self-assessment process of all home-based care providers.

Unlicensed Care

Programs that operate out of a residential home and care for up to two children, as well as home care that is provided by a child’s own parents, are not required to be licensed. These programs are not managed by any state agency, so parents should be cautious of them.

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