Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Protecting Children, Strengthening Families, Building Communities




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Collaborative Child Care Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

Wisconsin encourages collaboration between public schools and child care programs when a school district establishes a 4-year old kindergarten program (commonly called 4K) in a community. These collaborative programs are designed to meet the needs of children and families in programs that provide services in locations that are familiar to the children and minimize transitions between programs and services. Some school districts are expanding collaborative approaches to include 5-year old kindergarten (5K), 3-year old kindergarten (3K) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE). In this document we refer to 4K, however the same responses apply when there is a collaborative 3K, 5K or ECSE program operating.

Grouped by topic areas, the following questions are those heard most frequently about how the child care licensing law and the regulations regarding Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy payments impact collaborative programs.

Regulation Requirements

What is the different between a child care center and a preschool?

There is no difference between a full day child care center and a preschool or nursery school when it comes to licensing a program. Because preschools typically operate for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hour per session, some of the licensing rules do not apply. Rules that may not apply are those related to serving meals, providing naps, programming for the beginning and end of the day and probably rules related to the care of infants and toddlers and school-age children.

When does a program need to have a license to operate a child care center?

The Wisconsin Child Care licensing law is found in s. 48.65 Wis. Stats., and says in pertinent part that (1) No person may for compensation provide care and supervision for 4 or more children under the age of seven for less than 24 hours a day unless that person obtains a license to operate a day care center from the department. . .

This section does not include any of the following:

(a) A relative or guardian of a child who provides care and supervision for the child.

(b) A public or parochial school.

(c) A person employed to come to the home of the child’s parent or guardian for less than 24 hours a day.

(d) A county, city, village, town, school district or library that provides programs primarily intended for recreational or social purposes.

Do child care programs operated by public schools need to be licensed?

No, under s. 120.13(14)(a), Stats., in pertinent part says that school boards may:

(14) Child care programs. (a) Establish and provide or contract for the provision of child care programs for children…Child care programs established under this subsection shall meet the standards for licensed child care centers [DCF 251 Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Centers] established by the department of children and families.

Beginning in 2016, public school operated child care programs that are participating in the YoungStar Quality Rating System will be monitored for compliance with a subset of the child care licensing rules found in DCF 251. This is a new requirement as a result of the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant in 2014. The new federal requirement applies to any public school license-exempt child care program that wishes to be eligible to care for children receiving a Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy.

Do child care programs operated by private/parochial schools need to be licensed?

No, private schools do not need to be licensed to operate a child care center. Private schools are defined in the state education statutes under s. 118.165(1) below.

A private school that wishes to be eligible to care for children receiving Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy payments must be licensed.

What are the state requirements for private/parochial schools?

The state defines public schools and requires no regulation of private schools by the Department of Public Instruction. Private schools must meet the following requirements under s. 118.165 (1) Stats...

Section 118.165 PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

(1) An institution is a private school if its educational program meets all of the following criteria:

(a) The primary purpose of the program is to provide private or religious-based education.

(b) The program is privately controlled.

(c) The program provides at least 875 hours of instruction each school year.

(d) The program provides a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health. This subsection does not require the program to include in its curriculum any concept, topic or practice in conflict with the program's religious doctrines or to exclude from its curriculum any concept, topic or practice consistent with the program's religious doctrines.

(e) The program is not operated or instituted for the purpose of avoiding or circumventing the compulsory school attendance requirement under s. 118.15(1)(a).

(f) The pupils in the institution's educational program, in the ordinary course of events, return annually to the home of their parents or guardians for not less than 2 months of summer vacation, or the institution is licensed as a child welfare agency under s. 48.60(1).

(2) An institution may request the state superintendent to approve the institution's educational program as a private school. The state superintendent shall base his or her approval solely on the criteria under sub. (1).


If an association that regulates or accredits private educational institutions in this state submits an affidavit to the state superintendent attesting that the institution meets or exceeds all of the criteria under s. 118.165 and the state superintendent finds that the institution does meet all of the criteria under s. 118.165, the state superintendent shall determine that the institution is a private school. If at any time the state superintendent finds that an institution determined to be a private school under this section no longer meets the criteria under s. 118.165, he or she may withdraw the determination.

For more information on private schools or a list of private schools in Wisconsin, go to the Department of Public Instruction website at: http://dpi.wi.gov/sms/private-schools

Why are public school 4K statutes and program requirements different from child care and Head Start requirements?

The main reason for the differences is that each entity is subject to the rules of a different federal and/or state governmental agency. School districts must meet Wisconsin State Educational Standards and requirements from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the U.S. Department of Education. Child care providers must meet DCF 251, Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Centers which are standards established by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Head Start is a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and must comply with the Head Start Performance Standards.

Licensing Rules Applicability & Oversight

If a district is implementing 4K in community approaches with a child care or Head Start program, how much oversight does the district have over the program?

In 4K programs using community approaches, 4K is considered part of the school district’s 4K program. School districts are not relieved of their obligations for oversight of programs conducted with community partners. Through appropriate planning and site supervision, the school district must assure that the required components of 4K are implemented in all of their settings. Most districts have established collaborative councils that plan and oversee these community approaches. These councils address the details of these programs and provide reports to the school board. There should also be contracts between the participating providers. These agreements should address the district fiscal contribution and clarify service delivery models, child care licensing, Head Start performance standards, hiring, teacher in-service, planning time, curriculum and program practices, and other roles and responsibilities. The school district holds the authority and obligation to supervise the program for compliance with contract, district, and state requirements.

Who monitors for compliance with child care licensing rules and what happens if a licensing violation is noted?

The DCF Bureau of Early Care Regulation is responsible for monitoring licensed child care centers for compliance with the licensing rules. Licensed programs receive regular monitoring visits by a DCF licensing specialist. Public school operated child care centers that are exempt from licensing will be monitored by a DCF licensing specialist annually for a subset of the licensing rules.

During a monitoring visit, the licensing specialist may observe the program, check health and safety requirements, and review child and staff files and other documents related to licensing rules. Violations will be noted on a statement of non-compliance issued to the licensee or school district. Licensees are responsible for filing a plan of correction for all violations. Licensees and public schools are responsible for ensuring that violations have been corrected. Information about the results of monitoring visits for both licensed and public school operated child care programs will be sent to the public child care search website.

Must the children who attend a collaborative 4K program be enrolled in the child care center if they only attend for the 4K time?

Yes. Because the children will be under the care and supervision of the child care center during the 4K time, all children attending a child care center for 4K services must be enrolled in the child care center and counted in the child care center capacity.

How do the child care licensing rules apply when a collaborative 4K program is located in a licensed child care setting?

The licensed center must meet the applicable child care licensing rules. If there is a public school employee present (i.e. working as a teacher in the collaborative program) the public school is responsible for maintaining staff information including background checks. Supervision of the public school employee and program planning responsibilities must be addressed in the interagency agreement.

How do the child care licensing rules apply when 2 child care centers (or a child care and a Head Start program) occupy space in the same building but operate independently?

If no collaborative programming is going on and children remain with one of the programs for an entire session, then each portion of the program is licensed separately.

How do the child care licensing rules apply when a public school rents space in a public school to a child care program?

The child care center is licensed under the child care licensing rules.

Is Shaken Baby Syndrome training a requirement for 4K teachers?

Not in all cases. State child care licensing regulations require any child care provider, employee, or substitute who provides care and supervision to children under age 5 in a certified or licensed child care center to receive training in Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) prevention. This requirement does not apply to public school staff in a 4K collaborative program; although it is recommended that they complete the training. Depending on the individual child care centers policies in community approach sites, district staff may need to receive the training. The training could also be used as part of a Parent Outreach Activities. The training is required for child care licensing in a face to face approach. Centers may be able to train the staff using an approved trainer.

Must collaborative 4K programs comply with the child care licensing staff-to-child ratios?

When 4K is implemented in licensed child care settings, child care licensing regulations will need to be followed. These regulations are for teacher–child ratios of 1:13 and a maximum group size of 24.

How do the child care licensing rules apply to children’s records?

A child care center must have all required information on children attending the program including those children who attend only for 4K. This includes enrollment information, immunization records, health examination reports, and other information required under the licensing rules. Records may be shared between the child care center and the school district but they must be available for review at the child care site by the DCF licensing specialist. The DCF licensing specialist will monitor a center’s compliance with children’s records.

If a child needs to receive special education services such as therapy during the time the child is attending child care, do the licensing rules apply?

If special education services such as therapy are provided in the child care center and the child is removed from the classroom to participate in those services, the child must be signed out of child care. When the services are completed and the child returned to the classroom, the child must be signed back into child care. If services are provided in the child care center classroom, the child must remain signed into care.

How do the child care licensing rules apply when a child attends a collaborative 4K program for more than four consecutive hours a day and under the licensing rules is required to have a nap or rest time?

The Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Centers (DCF 251) require that all children under age 5 who are in care for more than 4 hours have a nap or rest period. The licensing rules also require that children who have a nap or rest period be provided with a cot, sleeping bag, or 2” thick mat to use. Children are not required to sleep or even lie down during the nap or rest period, and if the child does not sleep, should be permitted to get up after 30 minutes. A rest period could be a time of solo play such as reading books, working puzzles or other solitary quiet activities. This rest time could happen either before or after lunch between the 4K portion and the child care portion of the child’s day.

Are child care centers prohibited from using restraints and seclusion when guiding children’s behavior?

Yes, the child care licensing rule DCF 251.07 (2)(e)3 does not allow a child to be restrained or secluded including binding or tying to restrict movement or enclosing in a confined space such as a closet, locked room, box, or similar cubicle. The DCF 251commentary manual provides further explanation for the rules including: what is not included in the definition of physical restraint, occasional exceptions for a child with an IEP, responsibility to protect the child and others from harm, expectation that the center will work with the parents, and recommendation that the parent be referred to the child’s physician, Birth to 3 agency, or public school for an evaluation and assistance in developing a plan for the future.

What are the expectations for the availability of epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens®) in 4K Community sites?

If a child with a known need for an epinephrine auto-injector wants to keep one at the 4K Community site, it is handled as any other prescription drug authorization.

Child care programs are not required to have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand; however 2015 Wisconsin Act 35 allows a child care program to train staff and obtain a stock epinephrine auto-injector in the event of an unexpected allergic reaction.

If the school district has a district wide policy of having stock epinephrine at each school building, the plan should consider how the district will support its 4K Community sites.

What should be included in an interagency agreement for collaborative programs?

An interagency agreement or contract should be established with each of the community settings. This signed agreement will be used to determine who has responsibility for the specific components of the program. Interagency agreements should include at a minimum the following:

  • A mission, goal, or purpose statement.
  • A statement that this specified 4K program is part of the district’s 4K program.
  • Specific roles and responsibilities of each agency, including, but not limited to:
    • Programming responsibilities, e.g., building maintenance, outdoor play space requirements, transportation, and parent outreach and involvement.
    • Parameters of collaboration, e.g., joint activities, shared staff expertise, or shared resources.
    • Staff issues, e.g., staff supervision, joint planning time, and background checks.
    • Health services coverage.
    • Common professional development and shared learning opportunities.
    • Responsibility for insuring compliance with the applicable licensing rules.
  • Financial responsibility; e.g., insurance coverage, space rental, and contractual arrangements.
  • Maintenance of student records.
  • District rights and responsibilities for program supervision.
  • Timelines.
  • Definitions and/common uses of terminology.
  • Dispute resolution.
  • Agreements with faith-based programs must ensure a non-sectarian environment, curriculum, and program for all students during the 4K part of the day; be open to any district child without religious-based requirements; and outline methods by which the district will oversee the program to assure compliance.

Funding, Wisconsin Shares, and YoungStar Participation

Can fees be charged by a child care program if child care children are enrolled in a collaborative 4K program with a school district?

Yes. While child care is primarily funded by parent fees, 4K is part of the public system and is provided at no cost to families. Therefore, any child attending the community approach classroom only for the 4K hours of a day may not be charged tuition for the 4K program. However, child care programs typically determine that a 5 or 6 hour day is considered full-day and anything less is considered part-day. For example, in a program that does not charge by the hour, if the child participates in 4K for 2 ½ hours and is attending the child care program for an additional 6 ½ hours, the cost for child care is not reduced because the child is still in care for more than 6 hours.

Can child care programs receive Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy payments when they are offering collaborative 4K programs and Wisconsin Shares eligible children are participating?

Yes. Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy policy supports the authorization of the hours of care needed while a child is in a regulated child care setting. When a child care setting additionally offers collaborative programming of Head Start or 4K the full amount of hours should be authorized - up to the total amount of hours of care needed while the parent is in an approved activity. The parent is responsible for paying for any costs when the child was in care and the parent is not in an approved activity.

Will full day Wisconsin Shares authorizations be made if the child is in care only part day?

No. Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy authorization cover only care for the amount of hours needed for the parent to remain in their approved activity. Full-time hours will be authorized only when the parent needs full-time care in order to be in an approved activity. Authorizations are made for the specific amount of combined hours of care needed.

Can Wisconsin Shares be accessed if the child only attends a child care program for 4K programming?

No. Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy cannot be authorized when a child only attends a child care center for collaborative 4K programming.

Can Wisconsin Shares be accessed if the child only attends a child care program for Head Start programming?

No. Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy cannot be authorized when a child only attends a child care center for Head Start programming.

If a Head Start or public school program offers “wrap-around” services to provide care to children outside of Head Start or 4K program hours, can Wisconsin Shares be used?

Yes. Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy can be authorized for the hours the child attends the “wrap-around” child care program.

Are private school child care programs eligible to receive reimbursement from the Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy program?

Private school child care programs are not eligible to receive subsidy from the Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy program unless the child care program is licensed by the Department of Children and Families.

May Collaborative 4K programs participate in YoungStar?

Districts that operate 4K programs using community approaches with child care and/or Head Start may participate in YoungStar if at least one (1) hour of child care service is provided per day outside of/beyond the 4K service delivery timeframe. The educational qualifications of the 4K teacher may be counted for YoungStar purpose if the teacher is in the classroom beyond the school district-funded hours, and is providing child care teaching responsibilities during the alternative hours of the day. For more information on 4K and YoungStar, see the Q&A document at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/youngstar/providers/faqs.