Questions and Answers, Including Mid-Year Programs
1. Who is eligible for UPK?
Section 3602-e of Education Law defines an "eligible child" as a child who resides within a UPK participating school district and who is four-years of age on or before December 1st or otherwise eligible to attend kindergarten the following school year. A child who is age-eligible to attend kindergarten is not eligible for the UPK program.
2. Is UPK participation mandatory?
No. UPK is a voluntary program for both districts and children. Parents and/or guardians may choose, but are not required, to enroll their children in a UPK program. However, upon enrollment, the school district's attendance policy must be applied.
3. Can a district give preference for enrollment to children who are from families that are economically disadvantaged?
No. Section 3602-e of Education Law requires that school districts must establish a process to select eligible children to receive UPK services on a random basis when there are more eligible children than can be served in a given school year. The only exception to this provision is that a school district that operated a targeted prekindergarten program in the 2006-2007 school year may continue to use the selection process it had established for that program.
4. How can we increase the number of homeless children who are eligible to attend UPK programs when many of them enroll later in the school year?
By Federal law, homeless preschool children should be enrolled in UPK when they become known to the district. In certain circumstances it may be necessary for the program to obtain a variance to exceed the class size. Districts should contact the program office at the State Education Department for additional technical assistance on this issue as the need arises.
5. What are allowable costs?
Allowable costs are those items specified as "approved expenditures" in Section 151-1.2(a) of the Commissioner's regulations. Such costs include, but are not limited to, program components, professional salaries, professional development, support services, materials and supplies, administrative support services, transportation services, leasing expenses or other appropriate facilities expenses and other costs approved by the Commissioner.
6. Can money be used to lease facilities? If a facility is leased, what building requirements apply?
Leasing expense is an approved expenditure of UPK funds. Buildings and classrooms operated by a school district outside of New York City, but located off of school grounds, shall meet the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (9 NYCRR Parts 600 through 1250), sections 151-2.7 and 155.7 of 11 NYCRR and Part 418 of the regulations of the Office of Children and Family Services (18 NYCRR Part 418).
7. Can additional children be served with local dollars?
Yes, however the district should report such children as "other funded" on the Basic Educational Data System (BEDS) report.
8. What is an eligible agency?
There are a multitude of eligible agencies that may collaborate with a school district. These include Head Start, child care/day care centers, non-public schools, nursery schools, 4410 special education providers, BOCES, group family or family day care providers, libraries, museums and other early childhood providers within your community.
9. If a library has Pre-K programs taking place on Saturdays and after school hours, can they expand those programs for more Pre-K access?
UPK programs must operate a minimum of two and one-half hours per day, five days per week for a minimum of 180 days per year. To the extent that a library has the space and capacity it could expand its program to provide UPK services.
10. Does a parochial school qualify as an eligible agency?
Eligible agency means an existing provider of child care and early education. Therefore, parochial or other religious schools that operate prekindergarten programs qualify as eligible agencies. When providing UPK services, such schools must provide proper constitutional safeguards similar to those employed in Title I programs. Religious instruction cannot be provided in the UPK program and religious symbols should be removed or covered.
11. Do eligible agencies have to be located within the school district?
For the purpose of the New York State Universal Prekindergarten program, it is allowable for participating school districts to contract with eligible early childhood providers physically located within, or outside of, the district's geographic boundaries, assuming the process for establishing a collaboration is followed and the eligible agency is located in a contiguous district or otherwise transportation to and from the child's home to the eligible agency does not impose a hardship for the child, the family or the district.
12. What standard must be followed when a UPK provider that is governed by more than one set of regulations or requirements and there are differences in things like staffing, staff qualifications, facilities requirements, and other issues?
This is not an uncommon issue, especially in collaborations. Licensed and registered child care programs, voluntarily registered nursery schools, early childhood special education preschools, Head Start and other collaborators have to comply with more than one set of requirements. As a general rule when two or more sets of regulations are in conflict, the agency must follow the more stringent of the regulations.
13. What is the collaboration requirement?
The law requires that districts use a minimum of 10% of their UPK grant award to contract with one or more eligible agencies for the provision of the instructional program for a specified number of enrolled children. Districts must undertake a competitive process in the selection of their contracted agencies. Districts may contract the minimum of ten percent of the grant or the full grant award, to as few or as many providers as selected through the competitive process.
Generally, ten percent of the funds would be expected to serve approximately ten percent of the students.
14. What happens if no eligible agencies are willing or able to collaborate with the district or there are no eligible agencies within the district or there is good cause for not contracting with those who express interest in providing UPK services?
The law allows districts in such circumstances to request a variance from the collaboration requirement. Districts will have the opportunity to request such a variance as part of the UPK application.
15. Do districts have to contract with a collaborating agency located within their school district? Can districts that are unable to serve UPK students in-district contract with eligible agencies within a close proximity to the district?
As a general rule, UPK policy requires that districts only contract within their own geographic boundaries. However, some circumstances will necessitate contracting with an agency located in close proximity to the district's boundaries.
16. How do districts select collaborating agencies?
Districts must select the eligible agencies with which it will collaborate through a competitive process. Section 151-1.6 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education explicitly describe the process for issuing a request for proposals (RFP), as well as the criteria to consider for selecting which eligible agency or agencies will receive grant funds to provide the UPK program.
17. Does a school district have to conduct a competitive process every year?
Subsequent to the implementation of the initial competitive process, and the selection of an eligible agency or agencies to provide the program, districts must develop a purchase of service contract with such agencies. Contracts may be of varying lengths depending on the arrangements established between the agency and the district. It is imperative the district's attorney ensure that the contract is valid and that district's have clauses for discontinuing a contract, or alternately, extending a contract.
18. We currently contract with six eligible agencies. This year the district is receiving increased funding for UPK. Do we have to issue the RFP for the additional funds?
There is not a clear cut yes or no answer to this question. While a district may be happy with their current providers, there also may be additional eligible agencies in the community that would like the opportunity to participate in the UPK program. In addition, the district must take into consideration the capacity of the current providers to serve additional UPK children and to comply with the new uniform quality standards. Districts should also consider other factors such as the ease with which families can use the current providers and whether there are unserved areas of the district.
19. Can summer months be included as part of the "180 days per year" requirement and what are the options for beginning a program, or enrolling more children in an existing program, mid year?
UPK programs commencing at the beginning of the school year, and reporting their student count on the October BEDS date, must operate a minimum of 180 days during the school year. By law, school year is defined as July 1st through June 30th. Therefore, a district could design its UPK program to operate for a minimum of 180 days on a schedule other than the tradition school calendar.
Districts may also opt to begin a program "mid year" and serve children for fewer than 180 days, however children must be enrolled for at least 90 days. The mid year application conveys the details of beginning a shortened year program, including the method for submitting student counts.
Districts which have not applied for their full annual allocation may expand their current program by enrolling additional children mid year. The mid year expansion documents convey the process for accessing unclaimed UPK funds and reporting a second (additional to BEDS) student count.
20. Do superintendent conference days count toward the minimum 180 days?
Yes. The days for UPK are calculated in the same manner as for the kindergarten through grade 12 program.
21. Does UPK have to be 5 days per week and a minimum of 180 days per year?
Health and Nutrition
22. Who is responsible for screening (vision, motor, hearing, etc.) -- the district or the eligible agency?
The school district is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the diagnostic screening of new entrants occurs as required by Part 117 of the Commissioner's regulations. However, the details of how this is accomplished may vary among districts. This might be something you want to include in your contract with your collaborating agencies.
23. Is lead screening required by Part 117 of the Commissioner's regulations?
No, lead screening is not required for new entrants to the school district. Public Health Law requires that public schools, day care providers and nursery schools "obtain evidence" of lead screening for all children under six years of age. If the parent is unable to provide such evidence, the district must give the parent information on lead poisoning and prevention, and refer the parent to their health care provider or the county health department for a lead blood screening. Children may not be excluded because their parents fail to take the child for a screening.
24. Is the district required to provide meals and snacks?
Prekindergarten programs that operate for less than three hours must provide a nutritional meal and/or snack. Programs operating more than three hours must provide appropriate meals and snacks to ensure the nutritional needs of children are met. The cost of meals and snacks are allowable costs to the grant. In addition, districts or eligible agencies may access USDA reimbursement for eligible children through the Free and Reduced Lunch Program or the Child and Adult Care Food Program, respectively. Where districts choose to charge parents for the cost of meals and/or snacks, parents must be provided the option of furnishing their own meal or snack rather than purchasing.
For more information on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program, contact your district's school lunch coordinator or the SED Child Nutrition Knowledge Center at http://portal.nysed.gov/portal/page/pref/CNKC.
Information on the Child and Adult Care Food Program can be obtained through the New York State Department of Health website at http://www.health.state.ny.us/prevention/nutrition/cacfp/.
Curriculum and Assessment
25. Do all collaborating agencies need to use the same curricula? Does the district have the right to say that a certain curriculum be used for each of its sites?
Curriculum selection is the responsibility of the district. It is recommended that the same curricula be used in all UPK classrooms, regardless of setting. However, the district may allow eligible agencies to use alternative curricula if upon review it is determined that such curricula are aligned with the State's learning standards and provide continuity with the district's early elementary program.
26. Does SED have a list of recommended curricula or assessments for UPK programs?
There is no list of recommended or "approved" curricula or assessment tools. However, SED will provide guidance and technical assistance that will assist districts in selecting curricula and assessment tools.
27. What are the appropriate certifications for UPK teachers?
Section 151-1.3(e) of the Commissioner's regulations outlines the qualifications for teachers providing instruction in UPK classrooms in public school and eligible agency settings. Teachers must hold a teaching license or certificate valid for service in the early childhood grades pursuant to Part 80 of this Title.
28. How does a teacher with a bachelor's degree become certified? Are there alternate route to certification?
Information regarding staff qualifications and certification can be accessed through the New York State Education Department Office of Teaching Initiatives using the following web address: http://www.highered.nysed.gov/tcert/
29. Do UPK teachers in the collaborating agencies have to be certified?
A change in statute in 2008 provided increased flexibility pertaining to the qualifications of teachers in collaborating agencies. UPK teachers employed by an agency that is licensed or registered by a State agency may meet the qualifications of that authority. Teachers employed by an agency that is not required to be licensed or registered may meet the qualifications established by their employers. In both instances, if the UPK teacher is not certified the teacher must have an education plan that will lead to obtaining NYS teacher certification for Birth – Grade 2 within five years. A certified on-site education director is required to be present during the UPK session(s) until all UPK teachers at a collaborating agency site are certified.
If the eligible agency is unable to provide an on-site certified teacher as the education director, the district may opt to assign a qualified individual to be on-site during the hours of UPK operation and perform this function.
30. Must agency personnel be included in the district's staff development days?
It is the responsibility of the school district to assure that UPK staff in eligible agencies receive the amount and type of professional development that supports their ability to provide a high quality instructional program meeting the needs of the enrolled children. This may be professional development provided by the district and/or by the agencies. If district-planned staff development is relevant to UPK, then it is a makes good program sense to include UPK teachers and/or staff from the agencies. Conversely, most agencies have professional development opportunities for their own staff and including district staff may be beneficial.
31. How can staff in agency UPK programs attend the district's professional development without closing down the program?
Contracted UPK is for a minimum of 180 days, usually following the district's school calendar that has superintendent's conference days included. The district has options that may include, but are not limited to, requiring participation in some or all of the district professional development for UPK as part of the contract with the agency. Many agencies close UPK classes on district conference days so that their staff can attend. In some situations, the agency or district agree to provide substitutes for the UPK class to permit staff to attend professional development with the district or from other sources.
32. How long will it take to receive approval of our UPK application? Can a school district register students now?
UPK is an allocational, not competitive, grant. Therefore, districts should feel confident to proceed with developing their UPK plans and getting all components of the program in place, including the recruitment, random selection, registration and enrollment of students. Once the UPK application is submitted, and reviewed by the SED program office, districts can anticipate receiving notification that the budget has been approved and an advance of the grant funds within four to six weeks.
33. Is the application the same for continuation grants as for new grants?
The application for operating a full year, or 180 day program, is comparable for both new and previously participating districts. Districts that are first time applicants must submit program goals for implementation covering a three year period.
There is a separate application for beginning a mid-year program (at least 90 but fewer than 180 days). There are specific forms to submit for a mid-year expansion of the number of children enrolled in a currently operating program.
34. Can two or more school districts submit a joint application?
Yes, two or more districts may submit a joint application to operate a joint universal prekindergarten program. This application must identify which district will serve as the fiscal agent for the joint grant. The partnership agreement specifying the roles and responsibilities of each participating district for implementation and oversight of the program must be enclosed with the application.
35. Can districts request variances from the UPK requirements?
Section 3602-e of Education Law allows districts operating a UPK program to request a variance from some requirements. These include variances from class size limitations, the 10 percent set-aside for collaboration, and to operate a summer-only program. If a variance is approved, it will be for one year only and will need to be requested by the applicant district on an annual basis.