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Posted at 04:43 PM ET, 12/21/2011

Grant a step toward universal pre-K in Maryland, an advocate say

An advocate for early education in Maryland said the new funds from the federal Race to the Top grant are an important step toward offering
Teacher Rachel Austin gathers her pre-kindergarten students at Templeton Elementary School in Prince George’s County (Christopher Anderson)
universal pre-kindergarten.

Maryland won $50 million over four years to help expand access to early education. The award was announced last week.

The state currently offers publicly funded pre-kindergarten to children from poor families or children with specific learning challenges.

“Maryland’s already a leader in early education, but we want to get to a place where pre-K is available to every four-year-old,” said Del. Tom Hucker, who co-sponsored a 2009 bill requiring the state to develop a business plan for expanding eligibility.

According to the business plan, in the year 2007-2008:

*39 percent of entering kindergartners were graduates of Maryland’s pre-kindergarten program

*43 percent had attended another kind of child care or nursery school program

*18 percent had not experienced any formal early education program

Hucker said that the politics of early education have changed dramatically over the past decade. A lot of policy makers used to be reluctant to support even full-day kindergarten programs because they thought children should be home with their mothers, he said.

But with the economic reality of two working parents and a research base showing academic dividends from early investments, there is widespread political support for early education, Hucker said.

A big hurdle is funding. The business plan, which was released in Dec 2009, estimated that providing pre-kindergarten to every four-year-old would cost an additional $121 million.

By  |  04:43 PM ET, 12/21/2011

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