File: Gov. Martin O'Malley, top, delivers his final State of the State address on January, 23, 2014 in Annapolis. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The Maryland Senate sent legislation to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Friday that is expected to expand some pre-kindergarten classes as one more step toward opening all classes to all 4-year-olds in the state.

Senators voted 46 to one on Friday morning to approve the bill, which was sponsored by the governor’s administration and promoted by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is running for governor. Universal pre-kindergarten has become a major issue for Democratic candidates.

The House has already approved this legislation. O’Malley set aside $4.3 million in his budget to cover the initiative and said Friday that he plans to sign it into law. It would establish a competitive grant program through which schools systems and community-based providers could apply to expand and enhance existing pre-kindergarten programs.

Already, Maryland public school systems are required to offer pre-kindergarten to economically disadvantaged or homeless 4-year-olds. The grants would allow those programs to accept students from families that make more money and expand some half-day programs to full-day ones. This is expected to help 1,600 more children.

“With the passage of this bill by the General Assembly,” O’Malley said in a statement, “we’ll ensure that every child in our State has the resources they need to compete not just nationally, but globally as well.”