OLR Research Report

March 1, 2007





By: Soncia Coleman, Associate Legislative Analyst

You asked for information on Pennsylvania's Keystone STARS program.


Keystone STARS (Standards, Training and Professional Development, Assistance, Resources and Supports) is Pennsylvania's voluntary tiered quality improvement system for early childhood education. The program was introduced in 2002 by Governor Mark Schweiker and “seeks to improve, support, and recognize continuous quality improvement efforts” of early childhood education programs in Pennsylvania above minimum licensing requirements. It is managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and further administered by six child care resource developers or “Regional Keys” in the state which provide assistance to providers.

Programs receive an initial STAR rating and financial and technical support to improve that rating. NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accreditation, or attainment of the standards associated with such accreditation, is the ultimate goal of the program. Therefore, NEAYC or similarly accredited programs automatically receive the highest star rating. Based on a 2006 Keystone STARS progress report, 48% of regulated child care facilities in the state participate in the program. A recent evaluation of the program found sufficient evidence to support the Keystone STARS Quality Rating System as a reliable indicator of quality.


The Keystone STARS Performance Standards have five levels: “Start with STARS” and STAR 1 through STAR 4. The standards are based on research-based best practices and each STAR level builds on the previous level(s). The standards address staff qualifications and professional development, the early learning program, partnerships with family and community, and leadership and management. STAR 1 generally reflects basic licensing requirements. The highest level, STAR 4 correlates to NAEYC/National School Age Care Alliance (NSACA)/National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC) accreditation or attainment of STAR 3 requirements plus additional standards for staff, learning environment, and administration. Table 1 below gives a brief general summary of the requirements at each STAR level. A detailed list of requirements, which vary slightly depending on the type of provider, accompany this report.

Table 1: Keystone STARS Program Standards


Staff Qualifications and Professional Development

● Maintain a certificate of compliance with regulations

Early Learning Program

● Site obtains and maintains copies of the appropriate learning standards for all age groups in the program.

● Site completes an environment checklist.

Partnerships with Family and Community

● Families are provided information about their community and transitioning their child to other educational settings

● A “Getting to Know You” meeting is held with parents within 60 days of enrollment.

Leadership and Management

● Program develops and distributes a Parent Handbook.

● Illnesses and injuries are tracked, and a prevention plan is enacted.

● A staff meeting has been held within the past six months.


Staff Qualifications and Professional Development

● Effective July 1, 2008, directors and staff will meet specific levels on Pennsylvania's Early Learning Career Lattice.

● Directors must participate in at least one professional growth and development activity and attend at least 15 hours of training annually.

● One staff member per classroom must have pediatric first aid certification, and all staff must have child abuse mandated reporter training. Staff must attend at least 12 hours of training annually.

Early Learning Program

● Child observations are completed at the beginning of a child's time in the program and once yearly after the initial observation.

● The program completes an environment rating scale (ERS) self-assessment and creates an improvement plan for low scores.

Partnerships with Family and Community

● If the child has an individualized education plan (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP), the program requests a copy to inform classroom practice.

● Information about the child's day at the program is shared with parents.

● Parents are offered at least one conference per year.

Leadership and Management

● Program creates an operating budget and financial recordkeeping system.

● A personnel policy manual is created and shared with staff.

● System of site safety review and action plan created.

● Staff meetings held at least once per month.

● Director meets with staff to discuss quality and professional development.

● At least two employee benefits are provided to full-time staff.


Staff Qualifications and Professional Development

● Minimum qualifications for directors and staff increase.

● Directors enroll in the Pennsylvania Director's Credential.

● Directors participate in at least two professional growth and development activities and staff participate in at least one.

● Annual clock hours of training increase to 21 for directors and 18 for teaching staff.

STAR 3: Continued

Early Learning Program

● Child observations must occur at least three times per year, and the results of the observations must be used to tailor the program to the child.

● A learning curriculum that incorporates the Pennsylvania Learning Standards is established.

● An ERS visit is completed with required minimum average and classroom scores.

Partnerships with Family and Community

● A plan is written to refer families to community resources.

● The program coordinates a group activity to include families in meeting the program's goals.

● Parents are offered at least two conferences and a group meeting about transition.

● The program sends a letter of introduction to community and school stakeholders regarding transition and participates in transition activities.

Leadership and Management

● Teachers are provided paid lesson planning time monthly.

● Teachers are observed in the classroom, and they are provided feedback.

● Performance evaluations are provided to employees.

● A salary scale is created and shared with staff.

● Three benefits are provided to full-time staff.


Staff Qualifications and Professional Development

● Staff qualifications represent best practices for the early learning field.

● Directors participate in at least three professional growth and development activities.

● Staff participate in at least two professional growth and development activities.

● Annual clock hours of training increase to 27 for directors and 24 for teaching staff.

Early Learning Program

● Assessment of the child is completed and shared with parents at least twice per year.

● The program's curriculum and assessment tools are cross-walked to the Learning Standards.

● The minimum ERS scores that the facility must meet increase.

STAR 4: Continued

Partnerships with Family and Community

● Activities are implemented to meet IEP/IFSP goals.

● Policies regarding parent engagement and partnership in the planning and decision making for the program are implemented.

● The program offers parents an individual meeting about transition and develops and shares a plan for child transition with parents and stakeholders.

Leadership and Management

● An operational business plan, risk management plan, strategic plan, and financial review by a CPA are completed.

● A written code for professional staff conduct is instituted.

● Teachers are provided weekly paid lesson planning time and breaks.

● Four benefits are provided to staff.


The Keystone STARS program began as a pilot in June 2002. Pennsylvania initially allocated $11 million to improve standards at about 400 of 4,000 Pennsylvania child care facilities selected by lottery. The program was fully implemented in February 2004 and expanded to include family child care and group home providers. The budget for 2004-05 was $23.8 million. For 2006-07, $3 million was designated to expand the program for a total investment of $ 35.7 million. According to a September 2006 Keystone STARS quarterly progress report, Pennsylvania had 8,913 regulated child care facilities, with 4,277 participating in Keystone STARS. Pennsylvania's governor has proposed a $9.1 million increase for Keystone STARS in his 2007-08 budget.

Once enrolled in the program, providers receive funding and technical assistance to achieve the STAR levels. First, new enrollees can receive the initial “Start with STARS” grant. STARS “financial merit grants” are awarded to support continuous quality improvement as providers achieve a STAR 2 or higher. There is also a special “support grant” to help STAR 1 designated providers achieve a higher rating. Finally, the program makes “education and retention” awards. These are annual financial awards to eligible staff employed by the provider. To be eligible, a facility must meet site-specific as well as staff-specific requirements. The specific amount awarded to each center for each grant varies with the size of the program and the STAR level that the program has achieved. The “Regional Keys” also provide funds to local communities to form Community Engagement for Early Care and Education Groups (sometimes referred to as the CEG).


A December 2006 study evaluating the Keystone STARS quality rating system conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and the Pennsylvania State University Prevention Research Center included the following findings:

1. There is sufficient evidence to support the Keystone STARS Quality Rating System as a reliable indicator of quality. Both centers and home-based child care practitioners with higher STAR ratings had consistently higher scores on the Environmental Rating Scales ERS. Progression through the STARS system appears to be a reliable predictor of attaining higher quality at the sites.

2. Keystone STARS continues to improve quality in child care centers. Child care centers participating in Keystone STARS in 2006 have higher quality than the Pennsylvania average for child care centers and are showing higher quality now than at the inception of the STARS program. Overall ERS scores range from 4.11 for child care centers at Start with STARS to 5.42 for STAR 4 programs.

3. Child care centers at the STAR 3 and STAR 4 levels have significantly higher overall Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales (ECERS) scores than centers not enrolled in the Keystone STARS system or at the Start with STARS level.

4. Child care centers at the STAR 4 level have consistently higher scores on all subscales of the ECERS than all other child care centers.

A copy of the report is included for your use.