State Systems


All states operate or administer the key federal programs described in the Federal Agencies and Programs section of this website. However, each state is unique in its approach to and support of ECE. Federal programs and other state-level ECE operations are administered through a variety of state agencies and offices with few states coordinating all or most of their ECE infrastructure in a single agency.


Each state, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Department of Defense are responsible for regulating ECE facilities in their jurisdictions, and each has agencies responsible for the oversight and enforcement of these regulations.1 The primary mechanism of regulation is licensing, though not all facilities are required to be licensed. Some municipalities also have the authority to regulate ECE facilities within their jurisdictions. For example, Idaho delegates licensing of ECE to the municipal level.  To find your state’s licensing regulations, click here.

Pre-Kindergarten (pre-K)

Most states support pre-kindergarten (pre-K) education programs, which are usually administered through the state education department.2 Pre-K programs located in schools typically fall under state school regulations rather than the licensing and administrative regulations for ECE. President Obama called for the creation of universal pre-K in the U.S. in his 2013 State of the Union address.

State Early Childhood Advisory Councils (ECACs)

State Early Childhood Advisory Councils (ECACs) are mandated by the Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 to provide state coordination and collaboration among various early childhood stakeholders to improve the education and quality of ECE.  Additionally, most states operate or are developing a statewide Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for ECE, which is a requirement for the federal Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge grants authorized in 2011, and all have training requirements for ECE providers.

Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R)

Child Care Aware, the national Child Care Resource and Referral Agency Network, serves all states. Initially formed in the 1980s to centralize state resources for ECE and link parents with available, high quality ECE, CCR&Rs have expanded their scope to provide resources to ECE providers, families, and the community. The number of CCR&Rs varies widely by state, with eight states served by a single office.



  1. U.S. General Accounting Office. Child Care: State Efforts to Enforce Safety and Health Requirements. Washington, DC: GAO; 2000. Pub. No. GAO/HEHS-00-28. Available from
  2. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Available from Accessed 2012 Feb 14.