Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Logo
Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)

Proposed Amendments to 603 CMR 4.00 Vocational Technical Education Regulations, Phase 1 — Initial Discussion and Vote to Solicit Public Comment

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:November 8, 2019

As outlined in a recent Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) policy brief, Understanding Excess Demand for High-quality Career and Technical Education in Massachusetts, there is significant demand in Massachusetts for high quality vocational technical education (VTE), with more than 3,000 students on waitlists, particularly in Gateway Cities. To continue to support and promote the expansion of high quality VTE, as I noted at our September 2019 meeting, I plan to propose revisions to 603 CMR 4.00 Vocational Technical Education Regulations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) in two phases, while the Department continues to provide policy and programmatic support to create new opportunities for students, such as through the After Dark partnership programs.

Background information on VTE in Massachusetts and recent regulatory amendments

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. Vocational programs may receive federal funding, state funding, or both. Programs that receive state funding must comply with the high standards outlined in Chapter 74 of the Massachusetts General Laws and in the Board's regulations on vocational technical education at 603 CMR 4.00. Chapter 74 approval entitles districts to higher funding levels specific to vocational technical education under the Chapter 70 state aid formula.

The Board most recently amended the VTE Regulations in 2018 to align with the Language Opportunity for Our Kids Act, Chapter 138 of the Acts of 2017 (LOOK Act) and to extend the Sheltered English Immersion ("SEI") requirements already in place for academic teachers to include teachers of VTE programs. In 2015, the VTE Regulations were amended to address operational issues related to vocational schools, including program approval, student admission, and non-resident tuition.

Two phases of regulatory changes in FY20

I am bringing Phase I of the proposed regulatory changes to the Board this month for initial discussion and a vote to solicit public comment. These proposed changes are designed to address three main objectives: (1) support the creation of new VTE programs and expand access to the full range of programs for students; (2) strengthen program quality; and (3) streamline the vocational educator licensure process and create additional pathways to licensure. With the Board's approval at its November 19, 2019 meeting, the Department will solicit public comment on the proposed amendments to the regulations and incorporate feedback, with the goal of bringing them back to the Board for a final vote in February 2020.

Phase II will include proposed revisions to admissions criteria and procedures to promote equitable access to VTE for all students. This issue has generated significant interest and discussion from multiple stakeholders. The Department will continue to engage stakeholders over the next several months as we prepare proposed changes to this section of the regulations, which I expect to bring to the Board later in FY20. In the meantime, the Department will work with the field to improve access to vocational education for English learners, particularly in Gateway Cities. We will also work closely with a small number of vocational schools to explore potential changes to their admissions, recruitment, and retention processes, and will use what we learn from them to inform Phase II of the regulatory amendments. We will be asking these schools to examine their data, policies, and practices related to admissions, recruitment, and retention and to work with their sending districts on improving access to vocational education for all students. The Department will serve as a resource to assist districts in this work. I will report to the Board on our progress.

Phase I proposed regulatory changes

The Department's proposed changes and rationale for such changes are provided in the attached regulatory revision and rationale document. I have highlighted below some key items:

  1. (1) The proposed regulatory changes will support the creation of new VTE programs and expand access for students to the full range of programs. These proposed changes are needed to adapt to changes in labor market demand and post-secondary training in the vocational sector, and to promote access to the full range of VTE programs for students in the following ways:

    • Adds a new section to the regulations that would permit districts to apply to pilot new vocational technical programs to test their potential for new state-approved vocational technical education fields. This process largely tracks the way in which the Department collaborated with Westfield Technical Academy to create a new state-approved program in Aviation Maintenance Technology.
    • Clarifies that grade 9 students may explore1 specialized concentrations in agriculture and natural resources programs in districts other than their home districts, as these fields of study are not widely available. For example, the proposed change would permit a student who wishes to explore classes in equine science to enroll outside of their home district, even if their home district offers the more general "veterinary science" program.
    • Adds that grade 9 students may explore Aviation Maintenance Technology by enrolling outside of their district of residence, to better position those students to satisfy FAA hours requirements required under federal law.
    • For students who wish to enroll in a VTE program outside their district of residence,2 the proposed amendments address situations where the student's residence changes after April l — the deadline for students to apply for non-resident tuition for vocational programs outside of their district of residence — by including them in the existing appeals process3 for rejections of non-resident tuition applications. This will avoid a situation where districts may simply reject the tuition application as late, when the student is unable to timely apply. For example: a student is accepted into a vocational school before April 1 and their district of residence agrees to pay their tuition. The family moves in July and the student submits a new tuition application in July to their new town. The new town rejects the application solely because it is late. By adding these students to the existing appeals procedure and allowing the Commissioner to consider the relative burdens on both sides, the Department will be able to more effectively address these scenarios, which we hope will result in fewer students being forced to leave their vocational program, sometimes as late as their senior year.

  2. (2) The proposed regulatory changes will strengthen program quality. These changes are designed to codify and clarify minimum expectations of program quality, consistent with the significant funding the Commonwealth makes available for vocational technical education. The codification of program requirements, including scope, sequence, and time, will also promote consistency in quality across state-approved programs.

    • Adds a requirement that programs must be of sufficient scope to address the applicable Vocational Technical Education Framework (see the 44 current VTE program frameworks), and must provide a minimum of 900 program hours. The Department has determined, after consulting with stakeholders, that 900 hours is the minimum needed to address the vocational technical education frameworks, including the earning of industry-recognized credentials, hours required for students to earn specific licenses, and hours that can be counted toward registered apprenticeship programs. Specific programs may require additional hours beyond the proposed 900 minimum, depending on industry standards. This change would codify an expectation that is already in place in the Department's approval process for new Chapter 74 programs, and is part of an ongoing dialogue about program design the Department is having with stakeholders, including vocational and comprehensive high schools.
    • Requires exploratory programs to be based on the Exploratory Vocational Technical Education Framework (currently being finalized) and Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
    • Adds that districts with fewer than five VTE programs may not report a Chapter 74 exploratory program as eligible for state funding. The other vocational programs may be eligible for state funding, but an exploratory program covering fewer than five areas does not provide a comprehensive exploratory experience for grade 9 students, consistent with the goal of such programs. An exception is carved out for agricultural schools; given their highly specialized nature, only four agricultural programs currently exist.
    • Distinguishes vocational programs discontinued through a state-approved program closure plan from programs whose approval the Department revokes. If the Department approves, the former may still operate as a vocational program with federal funding (but not state funding), while the latter may no longer be offered as a vocational program.

  3. (3) The proposed regulatory changes will streamline the process for individuals seeking vocational educator licensure and expand the pool of candidates for districts seeking to hire licensed teachers. Outreach to the vocational community, including the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) and teacher surveys, revealed that districts often experience challenges recruiting and retaining licensed teachers. A major reason is that many vocational educators transition to teaching from industry, and they may not possess the kinds of degree credits that the current vocational licensing regulations require. Licensed vocational teachers also shared concerns about difficulty in acquiring additional vocational licenses. The proposed amendments are designed to reduce the burdens on teachers while maintaining necessary standards to ensure highly qualified educators in the following ways:

    • Removes Preliminary License requirement that industry experience must date from within the previous seven years. Applicants for the license must still pass a written and performance test and typically need a state or national credential in the field of the license sought, so the regulation maintains a high bar for entry even without the "recent" experience requirement.
    • Reduces Professional License requirement of 39 degree credits to 36 to reflect the manner in which some of these subject areas have been streamlined into fewer courses. The changes also allow more flexibility in the core academic college coursework required for the license.
    • Adds that educators seeking to advance their license to the Professional stage, and who have completed a higher level of education than that required for the Preliminary license, can have that higher level of education accepted in lieu of additional individual core academic college credits.
    • Allows vocational educators who have completed a Sheltered English Immersion course to apply those credits toward licensure requirements for a Professional license.
    • Adds an exception to certain course requirements for licensure of teachers for specific post-secondary VTE programs, where licensure candidates typically already hold advanced degrees.
    • Includes new pathways for administrators to earn additional vocational administrator licenses.
    • Requires vocational administrators to earn at least 15 Professional Development Points (PDPs) in their content area to renew their professional license.

Stakeholder engagement

The Department solicited feedback and input regarding these proposed changes from a wide range of stakeholders over the past year, with intensive engagement from May through August 2019, which included dozens of presentations, meetings, conference calls, and email exchanges. In addition to consulting with individual school superintendents, principals, educators, parents, and community advocates, the Department consulted with a variety of professional organizations, representative associations, and Board advisory councils, including but not limited to:

  • Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA)
  • Alliance for Vocational Technical Education (AVTE)
  • Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS)
  • Massachusetts School Administrators' Association (MSAA)
  • Massachusetts Vocational Association (MVA)
  • Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
  • Massachusetts Parents United (MPU)
  • Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network (CPLAN)
  • Massachusetts Advocates for Children's Education Law Task Force (ELTF)
  • Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE)
  • Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE)
  • Parent and Community Education and Involvement Advisory Council (PCEIAC)
  • State Student Advisory Council (SSAC)

The Department also received input from a working group of educators focused on SEI for English language learners, and the state universities that offer vocational teacher preparation courses.

Proposed amendments: process and timeline

If the Board votes on November 19, 2019 to authorize the solicitation of public comment on the proposed regulations, we expect to take the following steps between now and the February 2020 meeting:

  • Conduct outreach to a broad range of stakeholders, including another round of outreach to the stakeholders listed above.
  • Continue to develop guidance documents, tools, forms, and web resources for the successful implementation of the proposed regulations.
  • Review the comments and feedback we receive on the proposed regulatory changes and revise the regulations as needed before bringing them back to the Board for final action.

At the November 19, 2019 Board meeting, Department staff will be available to answer your questions, including Senior Associate Commissioner Cliff Chuang and staff from the Office for College, Career and Technical Education; Office of Educator Licensure; and the Legal Office.


1 VTE exploratory programs are half-year or longer programs for grade 9 students designed to help them learn about their talents and interests relative to a variety of different vocational technical programs. In these programs, students spend time in different vocational "shops" before deciding which vocational field they want to pursue with the remainder of their studies.

2 When a student seeks to attend a VTE program outside of their home district, the student must send the home district an application asking them to pay the student's non-resident tuition to attend that program. If the home district approves the application, they will also be responsible for providing the student with transportation, if needed. See M.G.L. c. 74 §§ 7, 7C, 8A and 603 CMR 4.03(6)(b).

3 The existing appeals process is found at 603 CMR 4.03(6)(b)2. If a home district rejects a student's application for tuition to attend an out-of-district vocational program, the student's parent or guardian may request that the Department review the rejection. In such appeals, the decision of the Commissioner to uphold or overturn the rejection is final.

Last Updated: November 12, 2019

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.