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Differences Between Schools and ECE Siting

Much work has been done since the mid-2000s to raise awareness about school siting issues [20]. In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released national voluntary school siting guidelines. The guidelines helped to raise awareness about where schools were located within communities and how the location of the school could affect children’s health. The EPA guidelines are available at

Although school and ECE programs have many similarities, some important differences create siting considerations and challenges that are unique to ECE settings. The first key difference is that children are voluntarily enrolled in ECE, whereas attending school is mandatory. This voluntary enrollment makes it harder to track and determine the number of children in ECE programs and the number of ECE programs.

Second, many ECE programs are privately owned and operated as businesses. As such, ECE programs can be placed in buildings that are zoned for businesses, such as office buildings, strip malls, or mixed development facilities. Unlike schools, ECE programs do not generally go through a public input process. Without much public input, an ECE program might be placed inappropriately, without parents or the center operator realizing it.

Finally, most ECE programs must meet specific licensing requirements within their state to be allowed to provide care for children. These licenses require inspections and renewals that provide opportunities to catch potential problems. Schools are not licensed in this manner.

Table 2.1. Differences between schools and ECE programs
ECE Programs Schools
 Often privately owned  Often publicly funded, some private
 Considered businesses and allowed to be placed in areas zoned for “commercial” or “business” use  Often not allowed in “commercial” or “business” zones
 Often no public input into the process of placing, building, expanding, or renovating  Often local public input into the process of placing, building, expanding, or renovating
 Frequently licensed by state  Mostly not licensed, accredited
 Younger children (infants to five years)  Older children (four through five years to 18 years)
 Longer hours  Shorter hours
 Voluntary attendance  Mandatory attendance