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Proposed Amendments to Vocational-Technical Education Regulations, 603 CMR 4.00

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 14, 2014

I am presenting to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this month proposed amendments to 603 CMR 4.00: Vocational-Technical Education Regulations, for initial discussion and a vote to solicit public comment. With the Board's approval at the November 25 meeting, we will solicit public comment on the proposed revisions to the regulations and bring them back to the Board for a final vote in February 2015.


Career and vocational-technical education programs at the high school level are provided in a variety of settings in Massachusetts: in regional and municipal vocational high schools; in comprehensive high schools; and in partnerships with educational collaboratives, post-secondary institutions, and other organizations. Many of these programs are designated by the Department as "Chapter 74 approved" vocational programs, indicating that they meet the high standards outlined in Chapter 74 of the General Laws and in the Board's regulations on vocational-technical education (603 CMR 4.00). Chapter 74 approval entitles districts to higher funding levels under the Chapter 70 state aid formula. Comprehensive high schools can also offer career education courses without seeking Chapter 74 approval; these courses allow students to learn about career opportunities without the need to enroll in a full-time vocational program.

In 2013, in response to issues and concerns raised by superintendents and others, I convened an informal working group of school district and municipal officials and Department staff to review our policies relating to Chapter 74 program approval and enrollment. Based on these discussions and other considerations, including those I outlined for the Board at the March 2014 Board meeting, I am recommending the following changes to the regulations:

Chapter 74 program approvals

Vocational programs that meet the statutory requirements of M.G.L. c.74 and the Department's regulations and guidance are designated by the Department as approved Chapter 74 programs.

  • Establish a formal two-stage process for Chapter 74 program approval. The first stage will focus on establishing the need for a proposed program, and will require the submission of clear evidence of both student demand and labor market demand. In assessing need, the Department may also take into account available capacity in other nearby programs. The first stage approval will serve as support for the district's school building assistance application to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

  • Under state law, a town that belongs to a regional vocational district may not offer a Chapter 74 program in its municipal high school if that program is offered in the regional district, unless the Commissioner approves an exception. Requests for exceptions will need to undergo the same determination of need described above. As part of its review, the Department will solicit comments on the application from the regional vocational district's school committee.

  • The second stage of the approval process will focus on compliance with all program requirements, many of which cannot be judged until the program is in operation. In the initial year of a program's operation, if the Department is unable to complete its review prior to October 1, it will provide provisional approval for purposes of the student data submission.

  • All Chapter 74 approvals will be reviewed and signed by the Commissioner.

  • Add a new vocational education program in Criminal Justice.

Chapter 74 program admissions

Many of our regional vocational schools do not have sufficient space to accommodate all of the students interested in attending. It has been suggested by some that vocational schools should be required to admit students based on a lottery, as is required for Commonwealth charter schools. Although I am not seeking such a change at this time, I am proposing several other changes related to admissions.

  • Vocational schools are currently permitted to establish minimum admissions requirements.1 In the case of students who are deemed ineligible for admission because they do not meet the minimum requirements, I propose to require each school to maintain documentation as to the specific requirements that were not met, and to provide such documentation to the Department or to the student's parent/guardian upon request.

  • Require vocational schools to admit all qualified resident students before admitting non-resident students. Schools would be prohibited from skipping over a resident student who meets the minimum requirements in order to admit a non-resident student or an out-of-state student who is deemed more qualified.

  • Make clear that recommendations from students' current guidance counselors are required in the admissions process, in an effort to better serve those students who could benefit from vocational education but who might not score as high on other criteria.

  • Require all districts that are members of a regional vocational school district to provide the names and addresses of their 8th grade students to the regional vocational school upon the school's request, so that students can be fully informed of their options for high school.

Non-resident tuition rates

The Chapter 74 non-resident program allows students to attend a vocational school outside of their home district if they are enrolling in a Chapter 74 program that is not offered in their home district. Tuition is paid by the student's home town. The tuition rate is calculated by the Department based on the vocational school's per pupil spending.

  • In FY05, the Department established a cap on the non-resident tuition rates equal to 150% of the foundation budget rate for vocational students, and announced plans to reduce the cap over time to 125% of foundation. The proposed amendments provide that starting in FY2017, the cap will be 125% of foundation. (It should be noted that under current statutes, county agricultural schools are not subject to this tuition process and would not be subject to the proposed cap.)

  • I will be proposing some adjustments to the calculation of the per pupil spending amounts used in setting the tuition rates. These adjustments would eliminate the use of current year budgeted amounts for certain spending categories, recognizing that budgeted amounts do not always reflect actual spending. We will also clarify the accounting for extraordinary special education costs.

  • In general, the Chapter 74 non-resident tuition rates do not reflect the capital costs of constructing school buildings, because in most instances these students occupy seats originally planned for resident students. In rare instances, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, in consultation with the Department, may determine that it is in the public interest to design and construct a vocational school to accommodate a significant number of non-resident students. In these instances, I am proposing to allow an additional increment to the tuition rate to reflect the local share of the debt service attributable to the extra space required.

  • The proposed revisions make it clear that the Chapter 74 non-resident tuition rates do not apply to tuition agreements entered into by two school committees under the authority of M.G.L. c.76, s.12. When school committees voluntarily enter into a tuition agreement for students in one district to attend school in another district, the tuition rates are negotiated between the two school committees.

Exploratory programs

Vocational high schools with five or more approved Chapter 74 programs are required to offer a half-year or full-year exploratory program for incoming ninth graders. In an exploratory program, students rotate through the different occupational programs offered at the school to learn about the programs and help them decide in which program they want to enroll. Currently, these exploratory programs are open to non-resident students under the Chapter 74 non-resident program described above. Under the proposed regulatory changes, students would no longer be permitted to enroll in an out-of-district exploratory program if their home district, or the regional vocational district to which their home town belongs, offers an approved Chapter 74 exploratory program. The Chapter 74 non-resident program is intended for students who have already decided on a particular vocational program. Students will continue to have the opportunity to apply for an out-of-district placement for a particular full-time program area when it is not offered in the student's home district(s).

Transportation limits for non-resident students

For students attending a vocational school under the Chapter 74 non-resident program, the student's home town must also pay the full cost of transporting the student to and from the school. Although there is a state program to reimburse cities and towns for this transportation cost, it has not been fully funded in recent years. As a result, there have been some instances where the financial burden on a student's home town has been unreasonable. To address this problem, I am proposing that the following factors may be taken into consideration in determining whether a town is required to pay for a student to attend an out-of-district vocational school: the availability of a comparable program that is closer in proximity to the student's residence, and whether the cost of transportation would exceed the district's prior-year average non-resident transportation rate.

Expanded opportunities for career education

There is a growing recognition that we need to offer more career education to all our students, not just those enrolled in full-time vocational programs. We are seeing strong student performance at many of our vocational schools, but getting local approvals and financing for expansion is a difficult process at best. I want to encourage districts to seek out and experiment with other models for delivering career and vocational education, including expanded offerings in our academic and comprehensive high schools, programs sponsored through our educational collaboratives, and partnerships among academic high schools, vocational high schools, and community colleges.

Proposed amendments: process and timeline

The Vocational-Technical Education Regulations have not been revised since 2009. These amendments are being presented for public comment in order to implement them in a timely manner for the 2015-16 school year. In addition, we anticipate proposing further updates over the next year including, but not limited to, regulatory recommendations to be developed to update the requirements for licensure of vocational-technical teachers.

These proposed amendments to the regulations accomplish several purposes: 1) update our regulations to reflect current Department policy recommendations to provide students with access to educational opportunities; 2) address some of the challenges identified by school and municipal officials; and 3) ensure that all of our schools have a fair share of fiscal resources.

In drafting the proposed amendments, Department staff consulted informally with the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators. We will continue our outreach to interested parties during the public comment period, and expect to bring the regulations back to the Board for a final vote in Febryary.

Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner and Patricia Gregson, Associate Commissioner, will be available at the November 25 meeting to answer questions.


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Proposed Amendments to Vocational Technical Education Regulations-clean version
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Proposed Amendments to Vocational Technical Education Regulations-strike through version
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Career Vocational-Technical Education Highlights
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2014 Accountability Data for Regional and Agricultural Vocational Districts

Last Updated: November 20, 2014
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