Quality Improvement Incentive

The Need 

Families in Colorado face a number of challenges accessing child care, including affordability, long wait lists and limited availability near their work or home. All children and families deserve opportunities to attend high-quality early childhood programs. 

High-quality child care is essential for children's long-term academic and personal success. That's why the state of Colorado regularly monitors licensed child care programs to ensure the health, safety and well-being of the children who attend. Programs that participate in Colorado Shines Quality Ratings take additional steps to ensure excellent programming in the following five standard areas: workforce qualifications, family engagement and partnerships, administrative practices, learning environments and child health practices. 

An independent assessment is completed every three years to assess these programs and provide an earned quality rating level. Participating in a quality rating allows programs to tell their story about the many ways in which they meet quality indicators in the standard areas, and program ratings provide families with information about their options for quality care across the state.

The Strategy

Increasing evidence tells us that the first five years of life, and especially the first three, set the foundation for future growth and development. Yet this age group has historically received the least investment across the country. 

Teacher/child interactions, appropriate curriculum and a quality environment significantly contribute to the brain development that occurs during these early years and can provide the foundation for children to develop the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in school and in life. Investments in early childhood environments improve health, school readiness and lifelong education and professional outcomes. 

The objective of this activity is to incentivize licensed child care providers in Colorado to enhance their quality level through the Colorado Shines Quality Improvement and Rating System (QRIS). Programs that earn higher ratings have increased access to grants and funding, professional development training and resources assessment-driven coaching to promote the importance of quality care in their environments. 

A bonus incentive was made available to increase the existing Quality Improvement grants by an additional $700 per award. This incentivized 250 more programs that had not previously engaged with this grant opportunity. 

Key Outcomes and Learnings 


At the start of this grant, 20% of Colorado‚Äôs 3,176 licensed programs were rated at Level 2, and 32% were rated as high-quality (Levels 3-5). By providing this additional funding, the State saw an increase in providers moving between rating levels as follows: 

  • 232 programs moved from Level 1 to Level 2, and 106 programs moved from Level 2 to Levels 3-5. 
  • This incentive served an additional 338 programs with an original projection of 250, while increasing the standard grant award for existing programs by $700 per award. 
  • 274 of participating programs serve children under 3. 


The existing Quality Improvement data system was used to track and administer these awards. This required CDEC to follow the fiscal close out schedule and suspend award incentives from May to June, with applications reopening in July. A better solution might have been to set up a new funding stream within our data system to allow for better reporting and timelines. 

Program capacity and desire to increase rating levels were identified as key barriers to participation. Additional challenges include getting programs scheduled for ratings in a timely manner and general operating issues, such as turnover in programs.

green gear labeled access and quality


Amount: $3,278,380

Source: American Rescue Plan Stabilization 

Expiration: September 30, 2023

Next Steps

Evaluation is ongoing and will consist of collecting success stories from programs that have increased their rating levels and highlighting providers who have achieved high-quality status under the new QRIS framework.