SECTION 1. Section 2 of chapter 15D of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out clause (e) and inserting in place thereof the following clause:-
(e) establish and develop a schedule for revising: (1) a rate structure for voucher and contracted payments to providers of subsidized early education and care programs and services on behalf of low-income and other at-risk children that is adequate to help meet the cost of providing high quality early education and care programs to low-income and other at-risk children in conformity with federal and state law, regulations and quality and safety standards; and (2) a sliding fee scale for participants in those programs. A public hearing under chapter 30A and the approval of the board shall be required before the establishment or revision of the rate structure and sliding fee scale.
SECTION 2. Said section 2 of said chapter 15D, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out clause (t) and inserting in place thereof the following clause:-
(t) establish the early childhood mental health consultation grant program to provide consultation services and workforce development to meet the behavioral health needs of children in early education and care programs, giving preference to those designed to prevent expulsions and suspensions. The grant program shall promote efforts to ensure healthy social and emotional development in child care settings and shall include, but not be limited to: (i) consultation services utilizing on-site, child focused observations using evidence-based observation tools; and (ii) providing on-site coaching for educators to address challenging behaviors and identify and facilitate referrals for children in need of more intensive services.
SECTION 3. Said chapter 15D, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by inserting, after section 12, the following section:-
Section 12A. Pursuant to clause (t) of section 2, the department shall develop performance standards for prohibiting or significantly limiting the use of suspension and expulsion in all licensed early education and care programs. The standards shall ensure that expulsion is only used in extraordinary circumstances where there is a serious safety threat that cannot be reduced or eliminated by the provision of reasonable program modifications.
The standards shall include, but not be limited to:
(1) benchmarks and goals for supporting children’s social, emotional and behavioral development to include reducing the use of exclusion as a disciplinary tool and for eliminating disparities in the use of suspension and expulsion, and facilitating referrals for children with intensive needs;
(2) engagement steps to be taken with the child and parent or guardian prior to suspension or expulsion;
(3) requirements for communicating disciplinary policies, including suspension and expulsion policies, to staff, families and community partners;
(4) pathways for programs to access technical assistance to support ongoing development of staff and teacher skills for supporting children’s social, emotional and behavioral development, reducing disparities and limiting the use of suspension and expulsion; and
(5) infant and toddler program reporting requirements.
SECTION 4. Said chapter 15D, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by adding the following section:-
Section 19. (a) The board shall, subject to appropriation, establish the early education and care educator scholarship program for all early childhood educators in the commonwealth pursuant to clause (10) of section 5.
(b) The commissioner, in consultation with the commissioner of the department of higher education, shall make recommendations to the board establishing appropriate guidelines, standards and application criteria for the administration of the program, including mechanisms to ensure the scholarship provides meaningful improvements in the delivery of high quality early education and care across the state.
(c) The scholarship shall cover the cost of tuition, fees and related expenses, including supports unique to the diverse learning needs of the field, and other supports deemed appropriate by the board for degree granting programs for early educators who are pursuing associate or bachelor level degrees to meet the teacher and program quality standards of the department.
(d) The scholarship program shall be administered by the department through a memorandum of understanding with the department of higher education.
(e) Eligible recipients shall be early educators and providers employed in early education and care programs in the commonwealth who commit to teaching in early education and care programs for a term of service after graduation to be determined by the board and shall reflect the diversity of the state’s early education and care workforce.
(f) Preference shall be given to applicants identified as providers who have displayed a proven commitment to early childhood education as demonstrated by longevity in the field, who may not have otherwise met program quality standards of the department.
SECTION 5. The department of early education and care shall file a report, by December 31, 2018 with the clerks of the house and the senate, who shall forward the report to the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means, and the joint committee on education, on recommendations to support continued programming in communities awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s Preschool Expansion Grant, including strategies and resources necessary to address community-based program expansion plans currently in development under the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Grant; provided, that the report shall identify means by which existing programming may be continued and existing planning grants implemented using existing resources available to providers in the mixed delivery system, in order to ensure that any additional state appropriations for planning or implementation are one-time, non-recurring investments.
SECTION 6. The department of early education and care shall file a report, by January 15, 2019 with the clerks of the house and the senate, who shall forward the report to the chairs of the house and senate committees on ways and means and the joint committee on education, on design and implementation plans for the early education and care educator scholarship program pursuant to section 4 of this act.
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