children playing with ladybugs in the garden

Is the Oklahoma Stars Program Right for Me?

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In 1998, the state implemented the Oklahoma Stars Program for rating quality in child care. As a new childcare provider, I thought this was a GREAT idea and was on board immediately to get the highest rating for running my home daycare. Did this quality rating really mean quality?

stars in space and an adult hand holding a childs

Reaching for the stars Oklahoma

All of the requirements are great. They include goal setting, parent conferences and meetings, parent involvement activities, additional hours of yearly training required, and things of that nature. I feel like all of those things make me a better provider.

Getting a CDA was part of the requirements for a higher star level. I learned so much through the process of getting my CDA and I know it made me a much better provider and mother. I would recommend every provider do it. It was hard to work 55-60 hour weeks and still go to class for 10 hours a week and then have projects and homework after that. At times I thought it would kill me.

My husband continually complained about the extra work, so I quit several times. It took me two years to finish the year-long program because I didn’t stick with it. We got through it and I felt like it was such an accomplishment.

Daycare rating

Next, I set out to get nationally accredited. Oklahoma had a mentoring program and someone came out once a month and watched me with the kids, taking notes. I was given advice, books to read, and support on whatever areas I would need to improve.

After I dotted all my I’s and crossed all my t’s I was awarded national accreditation. I was so excited.

After 12 years of being three-star and accredited, I was beginning to tire of all of the paperwork involved. In Oklahoma, there is a massive amount of paperwork involved in just being a licensed provider.

Every year the state adds more requirements and more paperwork to the load and continually more and more providers quit (or more likely provide care illegally instead). As the load increased, I began to get disheartened with the process.

For the first nine years, I was accredited, the fee was $495 every three years. That is A LOT of money for a childcare provider whose profit margin is laughable. I got a scholarship one year, did a fundraiser one year, and one year paid for it by saving up for two years before it was due.

Then I got a notice from the accrediting agency. The price would increase to $600 every three years PLUS a yearly renewal fee of $150 on year two and year three. The fees went from $495 to $900! It’s even higher now. 

children playing in an oklahoma stars program rated quality childcare

A provider who wants to get accredited must have FBI fingerprinting done for a federal background check in addition to our state background checks already required. Guess when you can get those? Monday through Friday 8-4.

A provider must also have a TB skin test. Guess when you can get those? Monday through Friday 9-4. I work Monday through Friday from 7:15-5:30 so I have to take days off to get those things.

Guess what happens when I take days off? I don’t get paid. A provider must also PAY for all of those things. Fingerprints are $53, TB skin tests are $27, copies of your last three years of training cost money, postage to mail a box full of paperwork costs money, fees, fees, fees.

Time off and time stressing out about mountains of paperwork and requirements I could be spending to just BE with my kids. Laughing with them, talking to them, and loving them. Spending my evenings getting rejuvenated so I can run and dance and play with them during the days.

I felt the process had become more about money than quality. Anyone can put on a show while they are being observed, even if the observation date is a surprise. For help to avoid burnout, click here.

I felt like the state had taken us on a journey to the wilderness and then left us out there. When the stars program was being promoted to us, we were told it would be advertised, and the whole state would be informed about what it was. That never happened. We reached for the stars and when we got them, we were left hanging from them. Most parents have never heard of the Oklahoma stars program or have no idea what they mean.

Over the year the grant program was shut down, scholarships discontinued, and raises for DHS subsidy for starred providers did not reflect the amount of work and expense they required. One year the three-star raise was 75 cents per day.

For paying $500 to get certified, I was receiving 50 cents more per day than a two-star provider. That spoke volumes to me about how the state felt about quality.

I had a long talk with myself and then with my husband. I wanted to spend my time being fun instead of grouchy and drowning in paperwork. It was really tough for me to give up my rating because I thought the program was such a great idea, but I knew I would be the same me without the stars behind my name.

So I decided after 12 years of being three-star, to let my stars go and quit the program. I would celebrate my gifts and not worry about what the state ratings said about me.

The stars program may be right for you, I don’t know. I would definitely recommend doing it at least once to get all the education. I feel like it changed me. But for me, and it may not be the same for you, keeping it up was not worth it. 

Over the past year, the stars program has gotten a major overhaul. It’s called a qris now or quality rating. It goes from 1-5 stars instead of 1-3 stars. It was changed because the director of DHS wanted it to be like a restaurant or hotel rating. (seems like a lot of money to spend for that, but I digress) The requirements are even less about quality than before.

I see there are many benefits. The Oklahoma stars program requires more education, which is never a bad thing. It weeds out people who don’t want to put any effort into their job as providers. The Oklahoma stars program helps you understand the value of the care you provide. It can give people more income if they take subsidy kids. And it helps you gain confidence and interact with people who can show you your gifts and help you nurture them. 

I had high hopes for the new program. I hoped it would look at your record of compliance with DHS. I hoped it would count for longevity and reliability which are such a huge gift to families and really say if a provider is quality or not.

I think quality is about kids knowing they are loved and families having their needs met. But they decided to go with lesson plans that have to have certain numbers written by them. Paperwork upon paperwork even more than before. It’s policies about how you do things instead of actually requiring providers to provide great care on the day-to-day. It’s really sad.

I went through the program and was awarded 5 stars based on their silly list, but I’m far greater a provider of quality childcare than is written down in their books. The awesome things I do that make me rock this gig of loving kids are not accounted for anywhere. So I probably won’t renew it.

And after a year of them talking about the program and it actually being implemented and many providers being awarded, they STILL are keeping the subsidy rates a secret. What are they hiding? I have a big feeling when they finally spill the beans it will be a huge insult and that’s why they are making everyone apply before they tell us.

It’s how Oklahoma DHS does things. And it’s sad because daycare providers are such a wonderful resource for our state. We keep Oklahoma working. But we are treated like second-class citizens, especially by our government and it sickens me.

I hope that someday quality is actually rated properly and appreciated. But I feel like it’s a lost cause and the only recourse a provider has is to walk away. But who suffers when all the wonderful providers quit? Oklahoma’s children, that’s who. But DHS and the state of Oklahoma do nothing to keep these gifts. They don’t appreciate us, in fact, they show great disdain for us. They don’t put programs in place to ensure Oklahoma’s children have care at all in the future. They just keep making cuts, putting us down, and trying to bully us into submission.

Well, it’s not going to happen here. I will provide amazing care for my kids on my own terms or I will walk away. I have kept at it for the love of my community, but there is only so much I can take. I’m a strong woman, but I also value my mental health. I just think it’s super duper sad the mess OKDHS has made out of the passion and love I once had for my career. It is, after all, the most important job in the world. But I guess they don’t see it that way.

Sometimes the popular decision or what looks right to everyone else is not what’s right for you. I’m finding that in several areas of my personal life right now, but I can see God makes everything work together for the good of those who love Him! That scripture is very real in my life right now as God is working on me in another area. I never tire of trusting Him, He’s a great and amazing God!

Do what is best for your mental health. The program does not reflect quality, so if you want to step away from it to save yourself, do it. You can provide wonderful quality care with no stars. I have done it for years and I will most likely go back to doing it. It’s better for me and better for my kids. And they are the reason I do what I do. Remember to think about what is right for you!

For more daycare tips for providers, click here. What steps can you take today to simplify your life? Less is more, you won’t regret it. Have a super day!

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  1. Thank you Tracy for sharing your story our state of Idaho is trying so hard to help providers qith stars. I appreciate your feedback and success with children! I share your passion of teaching and watching children learn and grow with positive involvement !

  2. Christina, I don’t know much about child care, but I do know you have a heart for children! I observed you & Kent work so faithfully with our church kids. I know the kids, and parents, loved you — they never wanted to leave Kids Church & go to the youth group!! With or without stars behind your name, you will always be a favorite of children. Continue to always allow God to work through you!!