How Preschool Works in South Dakota

Takeaway: South Dakota is a long way from universal pre-K, and it is unfortunately one of a handful of states that offer no pre-K funding whatsoever, often instead directing funds to higher education. “Starting Strong” is a successful scholarship program for low-income families; it is only able to fund 60 children statewide, however. South Dakota offers three types of child care that requires either licensing or registration; the three are largely differentiated by group size. Parents are able to search for care by type of facility and location.


South Dakota’s licensing standards are similar to other states with high quality pre-K programs. However, South Dakota is one of few states that offers no state funded pre-K whatsoever. “Starting Strong” is a scholarship program for low-income families that offers subsidized care pre-K to 60 children across the state. While the program has demonstrated success, it is only funded by donations and foundation grants. South Dakota’s government has rejected pre-K funding in the past in favor of funding existing K-12 and higher education programs. Any proposals for pilot pre-K programs have been killed in the legislation process. South Dakota has a standard database search that can be filtered by provider type, county, city, or zip code. Results provide contact information, hours of operation, available openings, and total capacity.

Center-Based Care

Licensed center-based programs, which provided care to 21 or more children under the age of six, can either take place in the provider’s home or a separate facility. Directors and teachers are required to either have a college degree focusing in early childhood education or have several years of experience in childhood development. All staff must have CPR and first aid certification and are required to complete 20 hours of annual training. Parents are allowed unlimited access to their child’s facility and are encouraged to have an active role. Child care centers are inspected annually.

Before and after-school care for children over the age of five must also be licensed.

Centers must observe acceptable caregiver-to-child ratios. These are: 1:5 (0-3 years), 1:10 (3-6 years), 1:15 (6 years and older). In the instance of mixed-age groups, the ratio must follow guidelines according to the age that constitutes the majority.

Home-Based Care

There are two types of home-based care programs: licensed group family day care homes and registered family day care homes. Licensed group day care homes provide care for 13-20 children under the age of six. Licensed care homes are considered a supplement to parental care and take place either in the provider’s home or a separate facility. They are subject to inspection once per year, and must meet proper environmental health standards. Caretakers should have experience and/or education in early childhood development.

Registered family care programs have less strict regulations for personnel, but all staff are still required to complete annual training and have certifications in CPR and first aid. Directors are only required to have a CDA credential. Registered family day care homes provide regular care in the provider’s home for up to 12 children. Registration is normally voluntary but is required if the provider receives compensation from public funds.

Unlicensed Care

Unlicensed care applies to providers who are exempt from licensing and are permitted to operate unlicensed and unregulated. License exempt programs include relative care, in-home care, part-time programs, and programs that receive no public funds and have fewer than 12 children.

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