General Education

How Preschool Works in Utah

How Preschool Works in Utah
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Noodle Staff September 2, 2015

A 6-minute guide to preschool and child care in Utah. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

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Takeaway: Utah has complex and comprehensive rules that licensed child care providers — both center-based and home-based — must follow, all overseen by the Bureau of Child Development. The state is also working to improve its public early education offerings. At present, Utah’s enrollment rates in early childhood programs are among the lowest in the country. Two recent state-run initiatives promise to improve enrollment in preschool programs. The Utah School Readiness Initiative creates public-private loans to fund high-quality early childhood education; in addition, UPSTART, a free, computer-based preschool program enables children to take part in educational activities from their own homes.


Historically, Utah has not had large state-run early education programs, and participation in available child care has been low. As presented in the State of Preschool 2014{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } report created by the National Institute of Early Education Research, in the 2013–2014 school year, only 12.4 percent of Utah’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-run pre-K, preschool special education, and federal and state Head Start (that year’s national average was 41.5 percent). These rates have changed in the last year with two large state-backed early education initiatives.

The first is the Utah School Readiness Initiative, also known as HB96. This bill, signed into law by Utah governor Gary Herbert, allows the School Readiness Board to borrow money from private institutions to fund high-quality early education programs. The state will only have to pay investors back if the loans allow students to be better prepared for elementary school and avoid remediation (and the associated costs) that they would need without early childhood education. This model has successfully worked for Utah’s Granite School District, and with investment from firms like Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker, the state has opened 750 new seats and set aside $3 million{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} to ensure that it will be able to pay back investors.

The second initiative is called UPSTART, or Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow. UPSTART was originally a five-year pilot program that originated in Utah, having received $8 million in federal funds from the Department of Education. The initiative, which provides a free, computer-based preschool program that children can participate in at home, has proved to be so successful that Utah has removed its pilot status and provided state funding. More than 15 percent{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } of the state’s pre-K population will be enrolled in the program this coming school year. The program is especially effective in providing access{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } to early childhood education to Utah’s many rural or remote areas, which are often difficult to reach and far away from nearby child care centers, and to allowing children to stay at home while they learn, a strong preference for many families.

Additionally, in 2013, Utah created Early Childhood Core Standards{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }, which provide strategies and activities for child care providers across the state.

Utah has a limited preschool database search that is filtered by location and provider type. Results provide contact information, capacity, and clear and detailed inspection reports, along with an explanation of what the inspections entail.

Center-Based Care

Utah has two types of center-based care: child care centers and hourly child care centers. These primarily differ from one another based on the number of hours of care they provide in a day.

In Utah, a child care center{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } is defined as a program that provides more than four hours of compensated care a day to at least five children who are outside of their homes for four or more weeks a year. This type of provider must apply for a license from the Bureau of Child Development. Licenses are granted when centers adhere to specific regulations{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } regarding the state and cleanliness of the facilities, the educational backgrounds of personnel, the types of activities offered, and the overall status of emergency preparedness. Child care center licensing also requires that personnel be certified in administering first aid and CPR, and that they complete a minimum of 20 hours of training, which covers recent updates to rules and regulations, principles on childhood development, tips for identifying signs of child abuse or sexual abuse, a review of each center’s emergency processes, and other guidance.

All child care centers centers must observe suitable teacher-to-children ratios. These are 1:4 for children under 23 months, 1:7 for 2-year-olds, 1:12 for 3-year-olds, 1:15 for 4-year-olds, and 1:20 for 5-year-olds and school-aged children.

Utah has separate licensing requirements for hourly child care centers{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }, which provide compensated care to five or more children for four or more hours a day for more than four weeks a year, but do so on an irregular basis. Regulations for such care are similar to those of child care centers, but they are slightly more flexible. For instance, staff members are only required to complete a minimum of ten hours of training.

Hourly child care centers have their own required caregiver-to-child ratios. These are 1:6 for groups that include more than three children under the age of 2, 1:8 for groups of children that include up to two children under the age of 2, and 1:12 for groups with no children under the age of 2.

Licenses for both types of child care centers last for a year. The Bureau of Child Development conducts an announced inspection at each facility 60–120 days before the license expiration date, one unannounced inspection during the license year, and inspections whenever it receives complaints. Inspections are based on a comprehensive list of rules and regulations{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }.

Home-Based Care

Utah has three types of regulated home-based care: Department of Workforce Services child care, licensed family child care, and residential certificate child care.

A DWS child care license{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } is granted by the Department of Workforce Services to in-home providers who care for up to eight children. Up to four of those children may be unrelated to the care provider, and no more than two of the children may be under 2 years old. All children under 13 years old count toward this limit. DWS Child Care providers must follow all rules and regulations, which require that they to get background checks and have first aid and CPR certifications; outline health and safety regulations for the home; and specify suitable emergency preparedness and documentation practices.

To receive a DWS Child Care license, providers must also answer 90 percent of questions correctly on a New Provider Orientation test. Licenses must be renewed after a year, and are only reissued when providers pass both a yearly announced and an unannounced inspection, as well as any other unannounced inspections that may take place in the wake of concerns about compliance. Inspectors use checklists{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } to be sure that all requirements are being met when they visit a provider.

Programs providing compensated in-home care to more than five unrelated children on a regular basis for more than four hours a day can either apply to be a licensed family child care program or a residential certificate program{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }. Generally speaking, licensed family child care facilities may serve larger groups, and they tend to have more stringent rules than residential certificate providers. You can see a more detailed comparison in this chart{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }.

Licensed family child care providers may care for up to 24 children under the age of 12 if there are two caretakers present, or up to 12 children if there is one caretaker present (these capacities include four children related to the provider for every caretaker who is present). They must also maintain a caretaker-to-child ratio of 1:8, with only two children under the age of 2, unless there are fewer children in total. Family child care personnel must have first aid and CPR certificates, and they must complete at least 20 hours of early childhood education training. To receive a license, family child care providers must adhere to certain regulations concerning the health and safety of their homes. These include providing a safe outdoor play space. Specific guidelines regarding the indoor and outdoor environment, child health and nutrition, discipline, and activities can be found on the Bureau of Child Development website{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" }.

Providers with residential certificates may care for up to eight children (including the provider’s own children under age 3) with at least one caretaker present. Of those eight children, only two may be under the age of 2. Personnel at residential certificate programs must complete a minimum of ten hours of training and be certified in administering first aid and CPR. Residential certificate programs are not required to have an outdoor space.

Unlicensed Care

Certain types of child care providers may apply for an exemption{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow" } from licensure. Care operated by the federal government, care from relatives, care provided in a home to fewer than four children, care provided by an educational institution, and care provided for fewer than three days a week may qualify a provider from legal license exemption.

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