Duck, Duck, Goose

One in every three children in free prekindergarten programs do not meet the State’s poverty guidelines, according to research attached to a bill in the General Assembly.

HB 1433 / SB 461 would change prekindergarten funding from its current model which is based on support to children from low-income families to a per-student formula. While the bill has not been moved by either house, it raises questions about funding that could surface again as the State considers expanding prekindergarten access.

Current Law Mandates Free Pre-K for Children Who Meet Poverty Guidelines

Under current law, all children who meet certain poverty guidelines must be admitted free of charge to publicly funded prekindergarten programs established by each of the local boards of education. According to the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, these are children who:

  • are four years old on September 1 of that school year,
  • are eligible for free and reduced-price meals (i.e., from families whose income is at or below 185% of federal poverty guidelines), and
  • whose parent or guardian seeks to enroll the child in a public prekindergarten program.

More Than 1/3 of Pre-K Students Did Not Meet Poverty Guidelines

The fiscal note for a bill introduced in the General Assembly reveals, however, that many more students than those would meet that definition are receiving free Pre-K admission.

The note includes a table (below) showing that only 63.8% of students enrolled in prekindergarten in the 2015-2016 year met the free-and reduced-price meal (FRPM) standard. That leaves 9,774 out of 27,003 students who are enrolled in public prekindergarten programs who are not within the definition of those students who must receive prekindergarten services.

Screenshot 2016-03-30 14.16.04
Only 63.8% of Pre-K students in Maryland meet poverty guidelines for the free service.

General Assembly Considers New Pre-K Funding

The students served by Pre-K may be relevant as the State considers altering the method for funding these programs. This year, the General Assembly considered but did not move legislation that would have required funding for Pre-K programs on a per-student basis.

Also this Session, the House of Delegate passed a bill to increase state funding of prekindergarten to match federal grant funding in 2018 and 2019. The additional federal and state dollars are intended to provide access to high-quality prekindergarten to families with incomes between 200 and 300% of federal poverty guidelines.

Currently, funding for state prekindergarten programs is provided through the compensatory education program, a formula that provides additional funding to schools based on the number of students who meet poverty guidelines. As described by the Department of Legislative Services,

. . . since the State mandates that local school systems make prekindergarten available only to disadvantaged four-year-old children, State funding is provided through the compensatory aid formula. . . In the Governor’s proposed fiscal 2017 budget, this adjustment equates to $94.6 million in State funds.

MACo has advocated that current and continuing compensatory aid funding sources be considered in any discussion of new prekindergarten funding methods. With the policy intent of reaching certain students with free prekindergarten services, the data on actual students served by these programs should also be considered.

For more information about Pre-K funding in Maryland, see the fiscal note for HB1433 and the fiscal note for HB668.