While the Administration’s pre-kindergarten proposal for this year includes funding for a pilot program, county governments and legislators are already considering how to fund a permanent expansion of free prekindergarten offerings. Counties share financial responsibility for schools with the State, often providing half of their budgets to education funding. According to the Department of Legislative Services, in fiscal 2009, county governments were the source of 48% of all funding for public education in Maryland, and provided $5.5 billion to schools in fiscal 2013.
As described in the Washington Post, the Governor set aside $4.3 million his budget towards prekindergarten expansion, with the intent of increasing the eligibility requirement for free pre-K to 300% of the poverty definition, expanding some half-day programs to full-day ones and, in some cases, providing care for up to 12 hours a day at designated centers. The pilot funding should extend pre-kindergarten to 1,600 more children next year. A permanent expansion from half-day to full-day programs and increasing the eligibility requirement to 300% of the poverty definition has been estimated at costing about $20 million a year.
An editorial in the DelmarvaNow, however, describes how Wicomico County’s private pre-K offering could be a cost-effective model for the state’s next steps in expanding prekindergarten to more students. As described,
Wicomico County already has one pilot pre-K program that’s offered in a private setting. Housed at King’s Kids Academy on Lincoln Avenue, an accredited child care center, it represents Wicomico County’s first Preschool For All classroom and the 13th such program in the state.
The process is a lot more complicated than it sounds, and involves a good deal of effort to ensure that all state educational standards are met in a location that the school district has much less control over. But it’s a promising avenue for exploration that may make better use of existing resources to deliver the pre-K advantage in a less disruptive way, as well as save taxpayers money that might otherwise be needed to build more classrooms.