How Preschool Works in South Carolina

Takeaway: Classification of care in South Carolina is largely dependent on group size and setting (e.g., commercial space vs. home). Programs that are only required to be registered do also have the option to be licensed, and to pursue a rating via the state’s ABC Quality Rating and Improvement system, which helps identify child care facilities that exceed licensing standards and provide top-notch care. In the 2014–2015 year, South Carolina made one of the largest investments in universal pre-K, second only to California. As a result, 17 additional school districts will offer public early childhood care and education. In addition, due to a push by the child-welfare organization SCAN, it seems probable that universal pre-K will be a major issue in the 2016 election.

Overview

South Carolina recently made one of the largest investments in universal pre-K; a 51.3 percent increase in funding will expand its state pre-K program to 17 additional school districts, a significant expansion given that already about 39 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state programs. This year, a child-welfare organization called Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) is working to make early childhood development and education a key issue of the 2016 election.

South Carolina’s pre-K program, which meets seven of ten federal benchmarks, is fairly strong. South Carolina’s voluntary rating system, ABC Quality, indicates whether or not a state is considered to meet or exceed state standards. ABC Quality is a good indication of the resources available to parents and children. South Carolina’s database search is average at best — searches may be filtered by provider type and location, while results display contact information, quality rating, and inspection/complaint history.

Center-Based Care

Center-based care, for 13 or more children, can be run out of a commercial space, a religious institution, or a school. Centers must be licensed, and they are required to meet basic health, safety, and child care regulations. They are subject to routine inspections. In addition to being licensed, centers may choose to be rated by the ABC Quality Rating and Improvement system to highlight that the program meets or exceeds certain licensing standards. Directors must be at least 21 years old, and teachers at least 18. All staff should receive ongoing annual training in child development, and all must have completed background checks. At least one staff member must be certified in CPR and first aid. Child care centers are also required to display both their license and a daily program schedule.

Centers must observe appropriate teacher-to-child ratios. These are: 1:5 for children from birth to 1 year, 1:6 for children ages 1 and 2, 1:8 for children ages 2 and 3, 1:12 for children ages 3 and 4, 1:17 for children ages 4 and 5, and 1:20 for children ages 5 and 6.

If a provider is only required to be registered (because, for instance few children are in care), that provider may nevertheless opt to follow stricter guidelines and obtain a license. South Carolina makes it clear to parents, however, that while licensing indicates that a center is operating legally, it does not always reflect the quality of care.

Home-Based Care

Home-based programs take place in the home of the provider and typically create a smaller, homier (as the name suggests) environment. There are two types of home-based programs: group homes and family homes. Group homes provide care for seven to 12 children and are required to be licensed, a provision that subjects them to the same standards as center-based programs (outlined above). Family homes, which provide care for up to six children, are for smaller groups of children. Family homes are allowed to be registered rather than licensed, but can opt for licensing if they so choose.

Unlicensed Care

License-exempt programs are permitted to operate without a license and are unregulated. Legally unlicensed programs operate for fewer than four hours per day, or exclusively provide care during school holidays summer vacations.

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