Chamber of Commerce wants more information before endorsing education centers

Thursday, June 24, 2010 | 6:52 p.m. CDT; updated 11:58 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 25, 2010

COLUMBIA — Although a proposed system for rating early childhood education centers interests Columbia  Chamber of Commerce board members, they're not yet ready to endorse the idea.

Chamber President Don Laird said the chamber wants more information before it signs onto the program.

Columbia School Board Vice President Tom Rose explained a proposal for a Quality Rating System for early childhood and after-school programs to the board last Friday.

“They were still uncertain about it and wondering where this would fit in,” Rose said.

The system would rate state-licensed early childhood education and after-school centers and homes, said Denise Mauzy, director of the OPEN Initiative at the Center for Family Policy and Research at MU.

The center would administer the project by collecting data and sending assessors into local centers and in-home day cares, Mauzy said.

Currently, Boone County has 172 licensed child care centers and homes, said Melissa Schulte of the Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral Network. One hundred forty three of those are in Columbia. Exact numbers for which ones are specific to early education aren't known.

“It’s a way for them to really take a look at it as a community to say, ‘How are we doing in early childhood and after-school (programs)?’” Mauzy said.

Assessments and ratings would be based on three factors: program personnel, content and management. The system would assess points and give the centers one to five stars, five being the highest.

“Essentially, we’re looking at borrowing marketing strategies from other industries to be able to communicate level of quality,” Mauzy said.

A feedback report identifying strengths and weaknesses of the centers would be included with each rating, Mauzy said. Local agencies would assist, coach staff and provide resources for centers and homes that need improvement.

“If programs continue to struggle, hopefully parents are asking what needs to be done — and the community as well,” Mauzy said.

The cost of producing the ratings and providing coaching and resources for centers varies with the number of children they serve. A center with 100 children could cost $16,000, Mauzy said. 

The chamber wants some answers before it endorses the system.

Laird said one member worried about incurring liability by endorsing the program.  The chamber also wants to know how the program would be funded and how it fits with other chamber efforts.

“We want to make sure we’re on top of what all is going on out there,” Laird said, adding there also is a basic question of whether the chamber is the right vehicle to help with the system.

Rose said research on centers in the Kansas City area that used the rating system showed a positive correlation between the rating of the center and the development of its children.

“The rating system was legitimate, and it did make a difference,” Rose said.

Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, also cited studies that support rating systems.

“They found the children that were in high-quality programs made great gains,” Jensen said. “Children in low-quality programs actually digressed”  in their preparedness for school.

Jensen said he hopes the chamber eventually would lend its support to improve early childhood education centers.

Although the chamber did not accept Rose’s proposal, Rose anticipates no changes.

Rose said a chamber endorsement would allow the system to advertise through chamber members and newsletters. No alternative advertising plans have been discussed.

Rose might also seek donations from nonprofit organizations, with or without the chamber's support.

''The chamber may endorse the project but not take it on as a chamber program,'' Rose said.

Rose plans to present the proposal to the chamber again within a couple of months. The board recommended he present to the Emerging Issues Committee.

“We don’t see it as an emerging issue,” Rose said. “We see it as an issue that’s emerged.”

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