Rewarding Excellence

The Smart Start Rewarding Excellence Program offers monthly awards to four and five star child care facilities once they meet all eligibility criteria and are selected for participation. Once selected, participating facilities will receive an award amount each month for the fiscal year as long as they continue to meet program requirements.

Participating child care facilities will be responsible for using the award money to maintain and improve the quality of early care and education provided for children 0-5 enrolled in their program. Awards may be used for the following options:

  • Staff awards: Directors will distribute awards based upon a plan that addresses their facility’s individual needs. For example, awards may be given based on years of service, attendance, job performance, communication skills with parents, professionalism or educational attainment.
  • Health insurance & retirement: Award dollars can be used for health insurance or retirement plans for employees only. Award funds cannot be used to cover the cost of family insurance coverage.
  • Classroom materials: Facilities may use awards to purchase materials for classrooms and outdoor environments such as blocks, puzzles, gross motor equipment, educational toys and dramatic play items that are needed to help the facilities maintain or increase their high star rating. A list of approved materials will be supplied to enrolled facilities.
  • Curriculum materials & training: Facilities may use awards to purchase materials and fund staff training in order to implement a North Carolina Approved Early Childhood Curricula.

ALL correspondence between Smart Start and participating facilities will be done electronically including submitting a Monthly Expenditure Report (MER) documenting how awards are spent. All participants will be required to attend a training session on how to submit their information electronically and can receive additional support as needed.


In order to be considered for this program, your facility must meet the following requirements:

  • serve children 0-5,
  • possess a current four or five star license,
  • serve at least one subsidized child 0-5 in May 2015,
  • have a Compliance History Rating of 93% or higher,
  • employ a director who determines how the awards will be spent,
  • complies with all Office of the State Budget and Management requirements,
  • maintains a checking account and high speed internet access including an e-mail address which is checked on a regular basis,
  • had the Environment Rating Scales completed within the past three years
  • does not have a current abuse or neglect violation substantiated by DCDEE

Individuals/organizations that own more than one center can submit applications on behalf of no more than 50% of their centers. This does not ensure that all 50% of your facilities will be selected. For owners with an odd number of centers, they can submit applications for the next highest number, i.e. 2 out of 3 centers, 3 out of 5 centers, etc.


Given the current budget situation, the program will not be able to enroll every facility that applies. Applicants will be selected based upon

1) adherence to all eligibility guidelines,

2) Compliance History Rating and

3) Environment Rating Scale Assessment Scores.


All awardees for 2015-2018 have been selected. The next application process will begin in fall of 2018.

Download Application