The Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care last week unanimously approved a measure to align the Massachusetts Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) grant program with the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) that the commonwealth launched in January 2011. (See UPK-QRIS PowerPoint.)
The board also approved the annual report to the Legislature from the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), discussed progress toward creating a Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment, and reviewed the goals and priorities of the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement network.
UPK grants, which were established in 2005, are designed to support and sustain quality in early education settings for preschool-aged children. The grant program currently serves about 6,400 children in almost 400 classrooms across the state. The QRIS defines tiers of quality in early education and care and out-of-school-time programs for children from birth to school age.
In public testimony before the board vote, Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children, supported the proposal but sounded a few cautionary notes.
“It maintains the UPK name within the broader QRIS – which includes programs and providers for children from infancy to school-age. The proposal will allow more programs into the system, align quality standards, and increase access for a broader range of children. Both UPK and QRIS focus on quality, which research tells us is critical if we want to achieve positive outcomes for children,” O’Leary testified.
“Change, as we know, is difficult. We must be prepared to address the bumps in the road and unintended consequences that are sure to occur during implementation,” O’Leary added. “As we update the UPK grant, we must continue to support educators and programs by understanding the obstacles and challenges created by this change.
“There is not enough funding in the system to support programs and complete the task of building a statewide system of high-quality early education and care. We must also increase our advocacy to preserve and protect the current funding levels and ask for strategic increased investments in UPK, QRIS and other line items that support children and families in the state budget.”
Many UPK programs use their grants to increase compensation – through salary, stipends or bonuses — for teachers who attain educational benchmarks, such as earning a degree. Much of the discussion before the board vote centered around preserving these gains in compensation.
The UPK-QRIS measure that the EEC board approved would:
- Require current UPK programs to be at Level 3 on QRIS and serve high-needs children to qualify for a renewal grant, while grandfathering existing grantees that have not attained Level 3 for one year.
- Consider any program that attains at least a level 3 in QRIS and serves “high needs children” a UPK program that can apply for an open competitive grant.
- Protect UPK compensation enhancement for current grantees, for a transition period of one year, if the program has used the grant to boost compensation for at least two years and has early educators in pre-kindergarten with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood or a related field who have taught for at least two years in the program.
The Department of Early Education and Care anticipates that it will allocate $5.5 million in renewal grants for current UPK programs in fiscal year 2013 and $500,000 in competitive grants for an additional 32 classrooms in new UPK programs. Under the revised funding formula, a UPK program could serve up to five high-needs children at $3,009 per child in a single classroom.
In other news, the board heard presentations on the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment pilot project. The two dozen communities participating in the pilot project will, among other things, identify an assessment tool to pilot and determine professional development needs to train teachers in the use of the tool and the resulting data – with the goal of implementing the pilot assessments in September 2012. The communities participating in the pilot are: Boston, Brookline, Chelsea, Everett, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lowell Community Charter School, Ludlow, Lynn, Marion, Mattapoisett, Medford, New Bedford, Northampton, Pittsfield, Rochester, South Hadley, Southbridge, Springfield, Taunton, Ware, Watertown and Worcester.
The board also heard a presentation on the FY13 priorities for Community and Family Engagement Grants:
- Actively identify and serve families that are most socially isolated, hard to reach, and whose children are at the greatest risk for developmental delays.
- Provide high-quality, accurate consumer information and parent education
- Use evidence-based early and family literacy models.
- Support families through a continuum of the services they need to promote their children’s healthy development, from birth to age 13, with a focus on supporting children as they enter kindergarten.
- Act as resource to support optimal child movement among programs and services.
The next meeting of the Board of Early Education and Care will be held March 13 in Springfield, at a location yet to be determined.