(1) The Early Childhood Education Endowment Cash Fund, consisting of the interest, earnings, and proceeds from the Early Childhood Education Endowment Fund and the earnings from the private endowment created by the endowment provider, funds transferred from the Education Innovation Fund pursuant to section 9-812, and any additional private donations made directly thereto, shall be used exclusively to provide funds for the Early Childhood Education Grant Program for at-risk children from birth to age three as set forth in this section.
(2) Grants provided by this section shall be to school districts and cooperatives of school districts for early childhood education programs for at-risk children from birth to age three, as determined by the board of trustees pursuant to criteria set forth by the board of trustees. School districts and cooperatives of school districts may establish agreements with other public and private entities to provide services or operate programs.
(3) Each program selected for a grant pursuant to this section may be provided a grant for up to one-half of the total budget of such program per year. Programs selected for grant awards may receive continuation grants subject to the availability of funding and the submission of a continuation plan which meets the requirements of the board of trustees.
(4) Programs shall be funded across the state and in urban and rural areas to the fullest extent possible.
(5) Each program selected for a grant pursuant to this section shall meet the requirements described in subsection (2) of section 79-1103, except that the periodic evaluations of the program are to be specified by the board of trustees and the programs need not include continuity with programs in kindergarten and elementary grades and need not include instructional hours that are similar to or less than the instructional hours for kindergarten. The programs may continue to serve at-risk children who turn three years of age during the program year until the end of the program year, as specified by the board of trustees.
(6) The board of trustees may issue grants to early childhood education programs entering into agreements pursuant to subsection (2) of this section with child care providers if the child care provider enrolls in the quality rating and improvement system described in the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act prior to the beginning of the initial grant period. Child care providers shall participate in training approved by the Early Childhood Training Center which is needed for participation or advancement in the quality rating and improvement system.
(7) The board of trustees shall require child care providers in programs receiving grants under this section to obtain a step three rating or higher on the quality scale described in section 71-1956 within three years of the starting date of the initial grant period to continue funding the program. The board of trustees shall require the child care provider to maintain a step three rating or higher on such quality scale after three years from the starting date of the initial grant period to continue funding the program.
(8) If a child care provider fails to achieve or maintain a step three rating or higher on the quality scale described in such section after three years from the starting date of the initial grant period, the child care provider shall obtain and maintain the step three rating on such quality scale before any new or continuing grants may be issued for programs in which such child care provider participates.
(9) Any school district entering into agreements pursuant to subsection (2) of this section with child care providers must employ or contract with, either directly or indirectly, a program coordinator holding a certificate as defined in section 79-807.
(10) Up to ten percent of the total amount deposited in the Early Childhood Education Endowment Cash Fund each fiscal year may be reserved by the board of trustees for evaluation and technical assistance for the Early Childhood Education Grant Program with respect to programs for at-risk children from birth to age three.