Section 13. (a) The board shall, subject to appropriation, establish the Massachusetts universal pre-kindergarten program to assist in providing voluntary, universally accessible, high-quality early education and care programs and services for preschool-aged children in the commonwealth. The program shall be designed to meet and enhance the preschool-aged child's ability to make age appropriate progress in the development of cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and physical capacities and school readiness based on curriculum frameworks.
(b) The Massachusetts universal pre-kindergarten program shall be delivered through a mixed system of providers and programs. Programs shall be sufficiently flexible to serve families with various work schedules. The department shall develop a method for funding the program, which may provide grants, or enter into contracts with any provider of early education and care, or entities coordinating or administering plans to provide high-quality, comprehensive services to children and their families within the local community. These providers may include, but are not limited to: public; private; non-profit and for-profit preschools; child care centers; nursery schools; preschools operating within public and private schools; Head Start programs; independent and system-affiliated family child care homes; and local early education and care councils. The department may provide vouchers to eligible households for the purpose of implementing the early education and care program. All providers shall demonstrate that they are willing and able to serve and integrate children of diverse abilities and special needs, diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and diverse economic circumstances.
(c) The department and board shall, in consultation with the department and board of elementary and secondary education, develop a joint policy on kindergarten transitions, which shall ensure smooth transitions between home, family day care, center-based preschool, and public pre-school. The policy shall be research-based, and aligned with best practices. The policy shall recognize the sensitive nature of the process for children and families, shall be designed to ensure the ongoing participation of parents and family in the process, and shall maximize all opportunities to ensure smooth transitions during the year before entering kindergarten. The process shall include, as much as is practicable, the exposure of both children and families to the kindergarten environment early and regularly in the transition process. The department shall require every preschool program receiving funding from the commonwealth to develop a local transition plan consistent with the statewide policy plan.
(d) The department, in cooperation with the executive office of health and human services, shall, to the extent practicable, assure that the programs and services provided through the Massachusetts universal pre-kindergarten program are no less available in the aggregate to the children of disabled parents than to the children of non-disabled parents. The department of early education and care, with the approval of the board and in consultation with the state advisory committee on early education and care established in section 3A, shall study and present any additional recommendations on the programmatic, financing, and phase-in options for the development and universal implementation of the Massachusetts universal pre-kindergarten program. This study shall include an estimate of the need for full-day, full-year care that meets the needs of parents who work full-time and shall include the number of pre-school aged children in the commonwealth who may be at risk due to family poverty, TAFDC status, special needs, or other risk factors.
The department shall include its findings and recommendations, and any updates of its findings, in the annual report required under section 3.