How Preschool Works in Rhode Island

A 3-minute guide to preschool and child care in Rhode Island. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: Very few children have access to care in Rhode Island, with only 17 centers offering pre-K programs. The state is trying to change that, and thanks to a $2.3 million federal grant, it should be able to provide care at 60 sites. Despite the limited number of programs, Rhode Island is one of a few states that meet each of the ten federal benchmarks for preschool quality. The state is stricter than most when it comes to licensing, requiring any center caring for three or more children to be licensed. Parents are able to search for centers by location and provider type, and can look to the BrightStars quality rating system to see which programs exceed licensing requirements.

Overview

Rhode Island consistently ranks as the worst state in terms of public access to high-quality pre-K programs, but is also considered to have one of the highest-quality pre-K programs in the country. It is one of just four states that meets all ten federal benchmarks for quality. Rhode Island’s public pre-K program is currently available at only 17 different centers, giving only two percent of 4-year-olds an opportunity to enroll. That said, the state just received a $2.3 million federal grant to expand access and provide care at nearly 60 sites. If the state is able to offer high-quality pre-K on an ongoing basis, it could be the recipient of $19 million more over the next four years, so that it may continue expanding access.

Rhode Island has a simple but limited database search that can be filtered by county, provider type, or city. Results only display contact information, capacity, and services offered. Providers are encouraged to be evaluated by the BrightStars Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System , which grades those programs that go above and beyond the basic licensing standards.

Center-Based Care

Any program that cares for more than three children unrelated to the provider is required to be licensed in order to operate. Child care centers generally operate with larger group sizes, and thus must meet stricter requirements. Child care centers must have a director and head teacher who meet designated education and experience requirements set by the state; qualified teachers are required to have at least a high school degree and vocational training and/or experience in supervising children. There must be at least two staff members available at all times, and at least one staff member with CPR and first aid certification must be present at all times. If infants are present, a nurse must be on staff for at least three hours per day. All personnel are required to complete 20 hours of training each year. Child care centers each must have a dedicated facility that is required to meet zoning ordinances and state-wide building, fire, health, and sanitation codes. Corporal punishment is forbidden.

All centers must follow appropriate caregiver-to-child ratios. These are: 1:4 for children ages 6 weeks to 18 months, 1:6 for children ages 18 months to 3 years, 1:9 for 3-year-olds, 1:10 for 4-year-olds, and 1:12 for 5-year-olds.

Home-Based Care

There are two types of home-based (also called family care) programs: child care homes and group family child care homes. Child care homes, which are certified and have less strict licensing standards, provide care to a maximum of eight children in the home of the provider. The provider is required to have either an associate’s degree in education or the equivalent in early childhood development experience. Licensed group family child care homes provide care to a maximum of 12 children in the home of the provider. Providers are required to hire at least one additional child care assistant, and all personnel must complete eight hours of training each year. Providers must also be certified in CPR and in first aid.

Unlicensed Care

Rhode Island offers few license exemptions to providers and makes it clear that providers will not be granted exemption for affiliation, sponsorship, or funding reasons. Any program that intends to operate unlicensed must receive prior approval from the Department of Health Services. Exempt status is usually granted to relatives providing care to children.

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