At its January meeting, the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care approved changes in Educator Provider Supports grants to better connect them with the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and align with the Massachusetts Early Learning Plan detailed in the state’s successful application for a federal Early Learning Challenge (ELC) grant. Emily Levine, our research and policy analyst, also reports that the board discussed recommendations about the relationship between QRIS and the Universal Pre-Kindergarten grant program and about Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) services.
The meeting, the first since the state was awarded a four-year, $50 million federal ELC grant, opened with a round of congratulations, followed by a cautionary note from Secretary of Education Paul Reville about the fiscal year 2013 budget. The secretary warned that substantial cost increases could prevent the state from providing services at the FY12 level despite an increase in state revenues. Governor Deval Patrick will deliver his FY13 budget recommendation to the Legislature next week.
Here are some highlights of the meeting:
- Early Learning Challenge. Commissioner Sherri Killins summarized the Massachusetts Early Learning Plan. Overall, $26,113,991 (52%) of the grant will be used for direct community investments, and $23,886,009 (48%) will further build the statewide infrastructure.
- Educator/Provider Supports – Vote. In addition to the objectives mentioned above, the changes approved by the board are also designed to strengthen the relationship between EPS grants and the state’s regional Readiness Centers, which are charged with improving instruction, birth to higher education. Changes include increased incentives for early educators to enroll in courses, more online courses, and support for evidence-based coaching and mentoring. A request for proposals will be released in February. Grants will be awarded between in April and May. They will go into effect July 1.
- UPK Alignment with QRIS — Discussion. Several key questions have emerged. Are UPK and QRIS accurate barometers of quality? Should UPK be folded into QRIS? Would the vision and philosophy of UPK then be lost? Should ELC and UPK funds be combined and folded into QRIS? A vote on the recommendations summarized below is expected in February or March.
- QRIS level. To earn a UPK designation, programs must be at least at Level 3. Current UPK programs that do not satisfy Level 3 requirements may be grandfathered in for one year. Any program that attains Level 3 in QRIS would be considered a UPK program.
- Access. Focus on high-needs children. Programs would be required to conduct formative assessments and screenings to identify high-needs children.
- Grant eligibility. Grants would be competitive. Programs would be required to demonstrate that they serve high-needs children as defined in the ELC grant application. Programs would be required to demonstrate PreK-3rd grade alignment with the school district in which they are located.
- Funding formula. Retain it as a grant to programs based on revised numbers and criteria. The formula would be based on the number or percentage of high-needs children programs serve.
- Use of funds. Grants could be used to increase access for high-needs children and/or spent on the normal and expected expenses of operating an early childhood program. Other funds would be available to help programs move up the QRIS ladder.
- Child Care Resource and Referral Services — Discussion. The department, in preparing its recommendations for the board, seeks to redefine the role of CCR&Rs and align their work with other initiatives and the Early Learning Challenge. CCR&Rs would move away from service delivery and assume more of an information-sharing role. The integrated voucher system, scheduled to be rolled out in February, would lead to a substantial decrease in CCR&Rs workload vis a vis voucher reassessment, allowing for a reallocation of staff time to meet other initiatives. The department anticipates level funding for CCR&Rs in FY13. The changes, if approved, would go into effect in January 2013.
- Higher education. EEC and the Department of Higher Education (DHE) are creating an ad hoc committee to look at early education priorities within higher education. EEC is funding a shared position within DHE.
- Commissioner’s salary. The board approved a 6% increase in Commissioner Killins’ salary.
- Needs assessment. The board heard a presentation about results of a needs assessment survey of educators and families of children, birth to age 13, about beliefs and opinions about child care services in the commonwealth. A panel of four parents and three early educators (panelist bios) discussed the findings.
The next board meeting will be held on February 14, 1-4 p.m., at EEC headquarters, 51 Sleeper Street in Boston.