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Noodle Staff
Noodle Expert Member

December 18, 2019

A 3-minute guide to preschool and child care in Idaho. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: Idaho has little to offer in the way of early education opportunities funded by the state. Though pre-K is not a priority at the state level, there is movement at the local level to increase the number of programs. Local governments also have the authority to establish their own regulations for child care, so it’s important to be familiar with your community’s specific licensing requirements. There are three recognized child care options within the state, one of which does not require licensing.


Idaho distinguishes between child care and day care; the former refers to the care of a child for 24 hours a day in lieu of parental supervision, while day care refers to a facility outside of children’s own homes where they are cared for by a non-relative who is paid to do so. There are three options for day care within the state: day care centers, group day care facilities, and family day care homes. Only day care centers and group day care facilities are required to be licensed. The licensing requirements for the different child care options can be found within the Child Care Licensing Administrative Rules{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, though the the state warns that a day care license does not necessarily mean a child will be safe or well cared for, and it is the parents’ responsibility to select quality care.

Idaho provides Early Learning eGuidelines{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} for teachers and child care professionals. The thorough guidelines supply information concerning cognitive, motor, social, and emotional development, communication and literacy skills, and developmental stages and learning milestones according to age. IdahoSTARS{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the state that helps families search for child care based on the desired setting, schedule, quality rating, and location.

Idaho is one of six states that don’t offer public pre-K, and it has one of the lowest rankings in the country for pre-K enrollment. State-funded pre-K does not appear to be on the horizon, as bills for pilot programs have repeatedly stalled in the state legislature. Given the few opportunities for early education aside from Head Start{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, larger school districts like Boise{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} are moving forward with their own pilot programs funded through private donations and grants; these may be also supported by taxes in the future.

Center-Based Care

Day care centers refer to operations outside of private residences in which 13 or more children are in attendance. Child care laws have changed within the past few years, including the requirements for staff-to-child ratios{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, which are based on a point system that corresponds to the age of each child: Children under 24 months are assigned 2 points; children between the ages of 24 and 36 months are 1.5 points; children who are between the ages 36 months and 5 years old are 1 point; and children 5 and above are 0.5 points. Each staff member may be responsible for a maximum of 12 points.

The state provides basic requirements{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} for licensing, but local governments{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"} have the right to introduce their own regulations as long as they meet or exceed those established by the state. Providers caring for more than seven children — a designation that includes day care centers and group day care facilities — are required to be licensed{: target="_blank" rel="nofollow"}, a process that entails (among other things) passing health and fire inspections, meeting local facility ordinances, having one staff member who is certified in pediatric emergency medical services, possessing liability and fire insurance, and ensuring four hours of training per year for staff members. Group day care facilities may be located in a variety of settings, including private residences.

Home-Based Care

Group day care facilities that serve between seven and 13 children in a home must be licensed. Family day care homes, where no more than six children are permitted, are not required to be licensed. That said, providers caring for four or more children are nevertheless required to undergo a criminal history and background check.

Unlicensed Care

As noted above, family day care homes are not required to be licensed, though they may voluntarily do so. Exemptions are made for a number of circumstances, including for facilities in accordance with local codes that meet or exceed the state’s requirements, infrequent care of a child by a friend or relative who doesn’t not ordinarily provide care, private or religious schools in which children are 4 years of age or older, and summer camps.

Discover Idaho preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind.