O’Malley Administration Introduces Bill to Expand Pre-K

The O’Malley Administration introduced legislation to expand Pre-K offerings in Maryland this week.  HB297, the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014 establishes a Prekindergarten Expansion Grant Program to expand prekindergartern services to economically disadvantaged 4-year old children in Maryland.  In an uncodified section, the bill also mandates a study to examine removing special funding for prekindergarten and instead incorporating prekindergarten students into the enrollment–based education funding formulas.  County governments throughout the State provide a substantial portion of their budget to support K-12 education.

Image courtesy of Maryland State Department of Education

The legislation authorizes the Maryland State Department of Education to administer grants to private, non-public, and public prekindergartens that serve economically disadvantaged children.  The bill defines economically disadvantaged as children from families whose income is no more than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines.  The 300% limit raises the current income cap for qualification for prekindergarten services.  As reported in The Washington Post,

Already, Maryland public school systems are required to offer pre-kindergarten to economically disadvantaged or homeless 4-year-olds. To qualify currently, the child’s family must make less than 185 percent of the federal government’s definition of poverty. For a single parent, that would mean making about $28,693 or less. For a family of four, about $43,567 or less. For the 2012-2013 school year, more than 26,400 4-year-olds were enrolled.

The administration wants Maryland to increase the income cap to 300 percent of the poverty rate. For a single parent, that would mean making up to $46,530. For a family of four, up to $70,650. The administration says they have also included money to expand some half-day programs to full-day ones and, in some cases, provide care for up to 12 hours a day at designated centers.

The uncodified portion of the legislation calls for a review of the need for further prekindergarten expansion with the next major review of education funding policy in Maryland as a follow-up to The Commission on Education, Finance, Equity, and Excellence of 2002, chaired by Dr. Alvin Thornton, a report often referred to as “Thornton.”  As described in the legislation,

That, when the Maryland State Department of Education issues a contract to conduct a study of the adequacy of education funding in the State, as required by . . . the Acts of the General Assembly of 2002, the study shall include providing universal access to prekindergarten services for Maryland children from families at different income levels. The study shall also examine removing funding of prekindergarten services for economically disadvantaged 4–year–old children from the compensatory education funding formula and instead incorporating prekindergarten students into the enrollment–based education funding formulas originally enacted [in]. . . 2002 that may be revised based on the findings of the adequacy study.

For more information, see the full story from the Postor read the full text of the Administration’s bill.