Quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) have been around for more than two decades in the United States. Alaska worked for over a decade to develop and implement a QRIS. This process of development included two QRIS pilots: The Hearts for Kids and the Quality Enrichment Demonstration Project.
Alaska’s first pilot Quality Rating System initiative, called Hearts for Kids, occurred April 2002–August 2003 in Fairbanks. Hearts for Kids was designed to raise the quality of child care in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Thirteen State of Alaska licensed child care home programs and 24 State of Alaska licensed child care center or school-age programs participated. Hearts for Kids provided valuable information about the strengths, challenges, and needs of early childhood education programs.
In 2008, thread implemented the Quality Enrichment Demonstration Project (QEDP) statewide with State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage licensed child care centers, licensed group homes, and licensed child care homes. The primary purpose of the QEDP was to determine the effect of specific intervention strategies (i.e. assessment, technical assistance, and financial incentives) and characteristics of early childhood education teachers (i.e. education level, hourly wage, and experience) on improving the overall quality of early childhood education environments.
Also in 2008, a QRIS plan for Alaska was developed following recommendations from the 2006 Ready to Read, Ready to Learn Task Force Report. With leadership from Best Beginnings and support from BUILD and national technical assistance, Alaska’s vision for a QRIS was created.
In 2011, an advisory committee comprised of early childhood stakeholders from around the state reviewed the 2008 report, Alaska’s Quality Rating and Improvement System: Final Report with Recommendations for Implementation.
In 2013, the Department of Health and Social Services Child Care Program Office allocated funds to thread to manage the development and implementation of Alaska’s QRIS. In December 2013, the first QRIS Director was hired—Meghan Johnson—who re-assembled stakeholder groups and committees to work on revisions to the 2008 QRIS plan and help develop a plan for implementation in Alaska.
Alaska’s QRIS was named Learn & Grow and officially launched in the summer of 2016. Enrollment opened to all State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage licensed centers, licensed group homes, and licensed home programs, with two of the five levels of quality available. Within the first year, Learn & Grow achieved double its enrollment goal of 10% of eligible programs.
As of December 2017, 32% of eligible programs in Alaska had enrolled in Learn & Grow.