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Providers’ and Parents’ Perceptions of and Experiences With Maryland EXCELS Child Care Quality Rating System

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodMar 27 2024


Since 2015, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has required child care providers who enroll children receiving a child care scholarship to participate in the state’s quality rating and improvement system, Maryland EXCELS,[1] in order to receive child care scholarship payments.[2] To understand how this policy change affected providers’ participation in Maryland EXCELS and families’ access to high-quality child care, and the implementation of Maryland EXCELS more broadly, the Maryland Child Care Policy Research Partnership (MD CCPRP) surveyed child care providers and families through two online surveys and conducted follow-up interviews and focus groups with a subset of those surveyed from 2021–2022.[3] This brief summarizes key findings from these data collection efforts and provides programmatic and future research recommendations for MSDE leaders’ continued consideration in light of recent policy changes implemented since data collection began.[4]

Key findings

  • Most providers are participating in Maryland EXCELS because it is a requirement for serving children with a child care scholarship.
  • Many providers see the program requirements they must demonstrate to earn a higher Maryland EXCELS rating as being too burdensome or not necessary.
  • Providers participating in Maryland EXCELS shared reasons that aligned with MSDE goals around supporting program quality improvement.
  • Providers not participating in Maryland EXCELS varied by urbanicity and race/ethnicity.
  • Quality Assurance Specialists (QAS) play an important role in helping providers publish and move up in ratings; however, communication and processes intended to support providers could be streamlined and improved.
  • There is a disconnect between providers’ goals and parents’ awareness of Maryland EXCELS.

In this brief, provider- and parent-focused recommendations are provided to ensure that Maryland’s QRIS policies and practices are equitable and effective.


[1] Maryland Excellence Counts in Early Learning and School Age Care (EXCELS)

[2] Child care scholarships (often referred to as child care subsidies in other states) are a form of financial assistance for child care costs for eligible working families in Maryland.

[3] Respondent counts (n’s) were as follows: Provider survey: 984; current provider interviews: 46; parent survey: 666; parent focus group participants: 37.

[4] In 2022, MSDE raised provider scholarship reimbursement rates from the 60th to the 70th percentile of the state market rate and expanded eligibility for families from 65 percent of State Median Income (SMI) to 75 percent SMI. https://news.maryland.gov/msde/maryland-expands-child-care-scholarship-program-to-provide-affordable-child-care-to-more-families/


Suggested Citation

Darling, K.E., Ulmen, K., Griffith, I., Solomon, B., Banghart, P., Madill, R., Lin, Y-C., Fuller, J., Halle, T., Haas, M., Surani, K., & Verhoye, A. (2024). Providers’ and parents’ perceptions of and experiences with Maryland EXCELS child care quality rating system. Child Trends. https://doi.org/10.56417/4176t3572h