by ETHAN BARTON
Capital News Service
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a gubernatorial candidate, announced the O’Malley administration’s plan to expand prekindergarten education on Jan. 16.
The plan would expand half-day or full-day pre-K, along with additional educational, family and health support services to children of Maryland families that make between 185 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
“We believe that at $4.3 million, we will be able to deliver pre-K to 1,600 more students,” Brown said.
The funds are packaged with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.
If successful, the expansion would be active for the 2014-2015 school year, said Brown’s communications director, Jared Smith.
Currently, a family’s income must be at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, about $43,500 for a family of four, in order to be considered economically disadvantaged, according to Brown’s press release. The O’Malley-Brown proposal would expand eligibility to families earning less than $70,650.
Attorney General Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, also gubernatorial candidates to face Brown in the June Democratic primary, previously announced their own pre-K plans.
Gansler’s would use $20 million funded by Maryland casinos, but does not have an estimated number of children it would cover, said his communications director, Bob Wheelock.
Wheelock compared the limits of the Brown-O’Malley plan to the costs of the state’s problem-plagued health insurance exchange: “$170 million on a broken website and $4.3 [million] for pre-K?”
“[Pre-K] was in the legislation a year ago, but it wasn’t enacted on for whatever reason,” Wheelock said.
Mizeur also questioned the timing of Brown’s proposal.
“The Lieutenant Governor’s proposal includes an updated study on pre-K implementation because the administration never acted on their 2009 study,” said Mizeur in an e-mail. “I’m happy to support it because it’s 1,000 more children with access to early childhood education, but what took so long?”
Mizeur’s own plan would ultimately expand full-day pre-K to 4-year-olds in families of four with an income of about $109,000 or less per year, and half-day to 3-year-olds in families of four with an income of about $70,600, or less, according to her web site.
Mizeur’s four-phase plan would cost about $280 million and would be funded by a tax on legalized marijuana.
Mizeur, Gansler and Brown all want pre-K to eventually become universal.
“Today’s announcement is the first step in our larger goal of establishing a voluntary universal Pre-K program,” Brown said in his press release.
Making the program voluntary is an important aspect of the proposal.
“I don’t think there will be opposition,” said Sen. Nancy J. King, D-Montgomery, a supporter of Brown’s plan. “It’s not mandatory.”
“Pre-K is great, but it shouldn’t be mandatory,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel, R-Cecil, on Tuesday. “It should be available, but the parents’ choice.”
An argument against early education is that the benefits diminish and do not have lasting effects, according to a 2010 report by the Maryland Public Policy Institute.
But King is skeptical of those findings: “I don’t believe that for a minute,” she said.
Her refute came from experience working in 2004 with Dr. Jerry Weast, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools at the time.
Weast followed students from early education on and saw a huge difference in achievement between those that received pre-K and those that didn’t, King said.