Maryland local school systems are embarking on pre-K expansion — as required by The Blueprint. Doing so offers both challenges and opportunities.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (“The Blueprint”) prioritizes early childhood education as its first pillar, including the gradual but eventual universal access to prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-old children. Doing so is a monumental undertaking proving to offer both challenges and opportunities.
A recent Maryland Matters report highlighted some of the significant considerations for early childhood education expansion in Maryland. Here, we summarize some of those.
Inclusion of children with disabilities: Maryland Matters noted that “As prekindergarten opportunities expand, school systems must also ensure early childhood curricula are more inclusive for children with disabilities.” This includes in pre-K education.
Reaching Maryland families: “Other planned reforms in early childhood education include working with families to make them aware of expanded access. And teaching assistants will be required to earn an associate’s degree or child development associate credential by the 2027-28 school year.”
Finding private providers: The Blueprint envisions a collaborative system of public-private partnerships for expanded pre-K. “The state has previously relied heavily on a network of private child care providers. Maryland has about 4,000 family child care providers that can enroll up to eight children…” However, moving private providers into pre-K services, other child care services may suffer from a lack of providers: “If more children ages 3 and 4 attend prekindergarten in a public school, that could decrease enrollment at child care centers and family child care providers.”
Where counties stand
As part of their initial local Blueprint Implementation Plans, counties had to respond to a series of questions on how they plan to implement and manage various aspects of the education reform law. One question specifically focused on pre-K expansion and the challenges counties may face:
What operational changes is the school system planning to make to support the expansion of Pre-K? Consider the impact of the expansion related to operating systems, schedules, talent pipelines, physical space and facilities, resource allocation, etc. How will the school system include the Pre-K expansion in its short and long-term planning?
Here’s how each of the 24 counties responded, with an overall majority stressing challenges finding enough providers and physical space to expand pre-K:
- Operationalizing the expansion of Pre-K will remain a focus in Allegany County. In FY23, the district supported expansion of full-day Pre-K into middle and elementary schools by dedicating space, altering staff schedules, modifying transportation routes, and adding administrative assignments. A Pre-K center, namely the Westmar Early Learning Center (WELC), in the western region of Allegany County at Westmar Middle School, was created. That site was chosen due to underutilization of space in the school building. Pre-K staff including teachers and instructional assistants were reassigned to the WELC. Additionally, a full-time Assistant Principal was assigned to the building to support the new program.
- Although implementing new full-day Pre-K programs in several of the district’s elementary schools may require long-term construction plans for new classrooms, expansion into schools with existing space will take priority.
- In the future as needed, ACPS will collaborate with community agencies to utilize any available, appropriate space to establish Pre-K sites. Additionally, modifying and increasing transportation resources to accommodate access to regionally placed programs within the county will be considered.
Anne Arundel County
- AACPS has converted 4-year-old Pre-Kindergarten programs to full-day in 61 schools. This year we launched 3-year-old Pre-Kindergarten in eight schools. The multi-year approach has allowed AACPS to meet the Blueprint requirements of one certified teacher and one qualified Teacher assistant/Paraprofessional in each classroom. As we continue to expand Pre-Kindergarten opportunities to eligible families, we will adjust operational needs as necessary.
- Planning for Pre-Kindergarten Spaces: AACPS has surveyed AACPS buildings to identify educationally sufficient space for potential Pre-Kindergarten classroom expansion and we are exploring non-traditional options such as space in middle and high schools and commercial real estate locations for possible expansion.
- The pre-Kindergarten expansion was also a consideration in our most recent redistricting plan. Once a redistricting plan is approved, we will better project future location sites.
- Funding for future Pre-Kindergarten expansion will require local and state funding sources. A Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten addition fund currently exists for expanding Pre-Kindergarten at our school facilities, but this fund will most likely not meet our future demand needs. We must consider building Pre-Kindergarten centers, leasing, and retrofitting leased facilities, and expanding our capacity in other ways to meet all the Blueprint requirements related to space and expansion of Pre-Kindergarten.
- Full-day pre-k is currently offered in the large majority of City Schools’ elementary and elementary/middle schools. To determine the extent of operational changes necessitated by expanded pre-k eligibility, City Schools, in partnership with the ECAC, will work with the Baltimore City Health Department during SY23-24 to identify the likely population of 3- and 4-year-olds in individual school zones by year for the next ten years through consideration of factors such as census, birth rate, and other data, as well as the existence of other pre-k providers and care settings in individual neighborhoods. (As noted in question 1, some of this research already exists.) This analysis will provide data to fold into City Schools’ annual process of making enrollment projections, used to inform facilities, budget, staffing, and other decision-making.
- Budgeting and resource allocation: City Schools uses a per-pupil funding formula, with pre-k allocations flowing to schools based on their pre-k enrollments, largely in the form of “locked” positions for pre-k staff. This process is not anticipated to change. However, program costs will continue to exceed dedicated funding, at least in the initial years of Blueprint Act implementation.
- BCPS is making numerous operational system changes to support successful prekindergarten expansion including merging early childhood general and special education sessions to eliminate parallel instructional models and best utilize space and human resources to serve children. BCPS includes special education staffing requests in prekindergarten expansion budget request.
- Appropriate Board policies and rules will be reviewed to ensure that the needs of three- and four-year old students are addressed.
- Transportation routes, equipment and staffing will be modified to address full-day programs.
- New prekindergarten curriculum is being piloted in school year 2022–23. Guidelines for scheduling, particularly for special areas (arts/physical education/music/etc.) will be shared with school-based leaders and teachers to ensure consistency across full-day programs.
- BCPS will support current staff members in their efforts to obtain the Child Development Associate (CDA) or Associate degree, allowing those individuals to apply for paraeducators positions. New partnerships and cohorts are being formed with local colleges and universities to support “grow our own” efforts to increase the number of qualified staff members.
- Short Term Operational Changes:
- Move all 4-year-old programs to full day and ensure each of the 12 elementary schools houses at least one full day classroom. These classrooms will be funded by a combination of grant funding and local funding. (Linked artifact: CCPS Prekindergarten Programming Sites
- Increase staffing for the 4-year-old program by hiring 12 additional IAs and 1.5 prekindergarten teachers.
- Work with transportation to the extent possible to keep students in their home zoned school.
- Development of procedures and guidelines to manage student enrollment for public and private providers.
- Determine changes needed for staffing, staff recruitment, and resource allocations.
- Long Term Operational Changes:
- Determine the programming shifts appropriate for moving from self-contained regional special education programs to inclusive prekindergarten settings.
- Create a study committee to plan for the implementation of a 3-year-old program.
- Study committee’s plan for the implementation of a 3-year-old program will include logistics of location, space, curriculum, time allocations, staffing, and transportation.
- Work with the department of human resources to determine a recruitment plan specifically for early childhood educators and instructional assistants.”
- When considering the expansion of PreK, CCPS is faced with the challenge of finding space for the classrooms, specifically PreK-3. We have been fortunate to find space in the elementary schools or PreK-4 classrooms even with the fluctuation of numbers over the last few years. However, elementary schools are near capacity to add a PreK-3 classroom. When looking for available space in the county, considerations regarding distance from the school, utilities, and construction costs to make classrooms would need to be addressed. CCPS could also look for a space that could house multiple classrooms to form an early childhood center within the county. However, each of these options have costs associated with them.
- Staffing is also a challenge. Currently, in our PreK program, each classroom has a teacher, teaching assistant, and part-time tutor. Throughout this school year, we have had vacancies for both teaching assistants and tutor positions. In expanding PreK-3, we would need to address the need for additional staff. Currently, the PreK-3 teachers are certified special education teachers since the program is an inclusive special education program.
- Additional staffing will need to be hired to include more full-time equivalent teachers (FTE) in special areas and additional hourly support in prekindergarten classrooms and non-academic settings to ensure the 10:1 student/teacher ratio is maintained across all settings during the school day. CCPS continues to recruit certified early childhood teachers each year. Hiring certified Early Childhood Education (ECE) teachers has not been an issue in the past.
- To ensure all instructional assistants earn their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential to continue in their positions, a meeting was held with all current instructional assistants to share and provide an opportunity that would allow each instructional assistant to earn the CDA certificate through grant funds.
- In addition to the Associate of Arts and CDA certificate programs established at Carroll Community College, a local private college, McDaniel College, is also starting an early childhood teaching program to help with the increased demands for employment opportunities in this field.
- As CCPS operationalizes the expansion of Pre-K, we have considered both short- and long-term impacts.
- In the short term, we are continuing to enhance structures for family access to Pre-K and information about the program. CCPS is evaluating spaces that could be used for Pre-K classrooms across the system. In addition, central office leadership is collaborating with building level leaders to discuss expansion plans.
- As a system, CCPS is examining the overall process for enrolling and managing Pre-K students. The online enrollment system provides families with immediate access to online registration for Pre-K programs.
- CCPS has also considered the impact that additional Pre-K sections will have on school master schedules. Specifically, providing teachers with negotiated planning time will require additional sections of special areas classes. The school system is currently reworking master schedules with these considerations in mind.
- As a district, we are excited to work with the Cecil School of Technology’s Teacher Academy of Maryland (TAM) program to begin enrolling students in the Child Development Associate (CDA) program as soon as possible.
- Physical Space and Facilities:
- Starting in 2023-2024, CCPS will open a pre-K facility on the campus of the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) in La Plata, located near the center of the county. The facility will have a capacity of around 100 students. CCPS will use the facility to address capacity issues at surrounding schools.
- For 2024-2025, CCPS will convert the Transition School in Waldorf to a pre-K facility. The Transition School has been used as a swing space over the last six years while several schools have undergone major renovations. The Transition School has a capacity of around 400 students, which will provide relief to surrounding schools with capacity issues as it is in a highly populated portion of the county. This will also provide space for CCPS to begin a 3-year-old program. This early learning center will have the same offerings as the early learning center at CSM.
- CCPS submitted a request for funding to place relocatable classrooms at schools with capacity issues at a projected cost of $17.8 million. The relocatable classrooms would be used for an older grade level classroom in order to provide classroom space inside the building to expand pre-K.
- As PK3 programs are expanded in DCPS, as well as Tier 2 students in PK4, DCPS will rely on various talent pipelines to recruit certified early childhood teachers. These pipelines include:
- Chesapeake College offers an Associate of Arts in Teaching degree that will transfer to a university, and Child Development Associate (CDA) courses for teaching assistants.
- DCPS partners with Salisbury University to place teaching interns in designated professional development schools in DCPS.
- Teacher Academy of Maryland (TAM) program offered at our career and technology center for juniors and seniors in high school that are interested in pursuing a career in teaching.
- Various job fairs to recruit teacher applicants.
- University of Phoenix offers an online program that leads to Maryland certification in early childhood education, allowing DCPS staff to continue working while pursuing their teaching degree.
- DCPS has direct billing agreements with multiple higher education institutions that offer both in-person and online programs.
- Maryland LEADS grant provides funding for DCPS TAM students to earn a bachelor’s degree, teaching assistant funding to earn teacher certification, and funds for teaching assistants to earn their CDA.
- R4K grant provides funding for teaching assistants to earn their CDA credentials.
- We have added Innovative Pre-K Programs at two of our high schools; both classrooms are successfully implementing full day Pre-K with classes of 20 students each. The Pre-K classroom is staffed by a certified ECE teacher and a teaching assistant. High school students completing Child Development Associate (CDA) coursework are actively engaged in the Pre-K classrooms by doing observations and running small group instruction. This approach not only created classroom space for Pre-K, but also facilitated classroom hours for CDA students. This program will be expanded to two additional high schools in 2023-24, with the expectation that it will be in all ten comprehensive high schools in future years.
- We would like to build on our high school CDA program noted above to hire graduating students as teaching assistants. In the long term, we hope to build a pipeline for those teaching assistants to pursue their ECE degrees via a Grow Your Own program similar to one we have developed for special educators with Maryland Leads grant funds. The challenge, however, is finding additional resources to support the creation of this pipeline.
- GCPS currently offers universal full day pre-K4 programming to students in Garrett County.
- In order to expand pre-K opportunities, GCPS implemented two Pre-K3 classrooms this year for the first time. These classrooms service eligible students for full days for five days a week. They provide high-quality experiences for students and their families that will close learning gaps. These students receive transportation on the regular GCPS buses. Schools adjusted their schedules to ensure students receive resource classes with adjusted times. GCPS adopted a new curriculum to help support instruction for all of our Pre-K classrooms including the new Pre-K3 classrooms.
- GCPS is planning to expand with two additional Pre-K3 classrooms next year. We will be applying for funding for this in the Expansion Grant for 2023-2024. A new Pre-K3 classroom will be added to Grantsville Elementary and another will be added to Broad Ford Elementary. Grantsville Elementary has been recently renovated and has room for an additional classroom. Route 40 Elementary is in close proximity to Grantsville Elementary and can also send their students who meet the criteria.
- Long Term Facility Plan:
- The long-term plan requires increasing elementary school capacity.
- The Harford Academy at Campus Hills project is planned to replace the current school for students with significant disabilities requiring separate placement per their IEP with a new combination school to include an elementary school. The new elementary school capacity will include pre-k classes including regional specialized preschool programs and free up capacity within the development envelope to accommodate additional pre-k classrooms.
- Additionally, HCPS has requested local funding to complete a scope study to evaluate addition/modernization potential at schools with the highest systemic needs. This CIP will enable HCPS to remain fiscally responsible in addressing school facility systemic needs while addressing capacity needs.
- However, with limited capital funding, adding permanent capacity to schools for program expansion will further defer necessary systemic and replacement projects.
- Below is a list of additional operational impacts and changes needed to support the expansion of pre-k.
- Ensure funding is available for an Early Childhood Teacher Specialist to support HCPS pre-k and community programs.
- Ensure funding is available for additional staffing (teachers and assistants).
- Ensure funding is available for additional special area teachers to support full day pre-k students.
- HCPSS is planning incremental increases to the number of available slots for eligible students.
- Initial efforts have focused on the conversion of the existing half-day programs for 4-year-olds to full-day programs for eligible 4-year-olds.
- Planning has also included additional slots for the expansion of the programs to address the increased service range.
- The initial focus of expansion has been on the full utilization of all available existing HCPSS spaces to increase the number of available Pre-K slots. Strategies include full or maximized utilization of traditional classroom spaces and conversion of spaces used for other purposes (e.g., offices, conference rooms, third-party occupied rooms) through construction projects. Additional Pre-K classrooms and related spaces are strategically planned in future capital projects to maximize existing projects, schools, and to create new regional centers.
- HCPSS stakeholders regularly meet to discuss plans for future space utilization, identify the associated benefits and challenges, and provide potential solutions for limited capacity.
- Because KCPS currently provides publicly funded full-day pre-K to all 4-year-olds, no operational changes will be required for Fiscal Year 2024.
- However, in order to meet the Blueprint’s requirement for Tier 1 3-year-old pre-K by 2032, KCPS will need to secure additional resources such as iPads, curriculum, and professional development; additional staff including three new full-time teachers, three new instructional assistants, one new bus driver, and an assistant for the bus; facility upgrades including age-appropriate furniture, cubbies, sinks, toilets, and sensory rooms; and a new bus. This will require a significant investment.
- In FY23, KCPS has pursued both the MD Rebuilds Grant and a Full-Service Community Schools grant unsuccessfully and will continue to search for grant opportunities to operationalize the expansion of pre-K as soon as possible.
- The Early Childhood Unit will work with the Division of Capital Planning and Real Estate to identify buildings that have space in schools throughout the county.
- Structural changes including the conversion of additional part day Pre-K classes to full day classes. Each class has a capacity of 20 children. When a school has part-day Pre-K classes, the configuration consists of an AM session of 20 students and a PM session of 20 students using the same classroom. As MCPS converts part-day Pre-K classes, we will consider building capacity. In some cases, this will mean taking the AM and PM sessions and finding space within the same building. In other cases, it may be necessary to find space in a different location.
- Based on enrollment data, the Early Childhood Unit is considering the conversion of part-day seats to full-day in areas of the county with high need.
- It should also be noted that these full-day classes will be inclusive of students with disabilities. This includes the creation of full-day, inclusive classes in newly renovated elementary school buildings that did not have Pre-K classes prior to their renovation.
- All newly built and renovated elementary buildings include space for one Pre-K classroom.
Prince George’s County
- PreK in the district has expanded to all available spaces. As schools move their 6th grade students to middle school buildings, PGCPS is working with CIP to upgrade the classrooms to house more prekindergarten students with limited or no access to quality child care, regardless of income (i.e., adding bathrooms to classrooms and age-appropriate playground structures).
- PGCPS has developed a proposal for expansion going forward.
- Any construction of new buildings at the elementary or PreK-8 level will also include multiple PreK classes.
- The number of PreK classes will be adjusted based on need within the community as much as the building construction guidelines will allow.
Queen Anne’s County
- QACPS is in the first year of a three-year plan to bring full-day pre-k to all of our elementary schools.
- Operationally, we are making improvements to our online enrollment system so that families can enroll and upload documents into our system. Families with limited or no internet access will still be able to enroll at their respective school.
- As we expand pre-k we do not know exactly what the demand will be, and what proportion of income tiers our families will fall in.
- We are also going to open enrollment earlier, starting in March. Enrollment process improvements will allow us to collect data earlier to be able to make pre-k enrollment decisions and projections more accurately moving forward.
- Fortunately, our 3-year plan for pre-k expansion will not require additional space beyond what we currently have and will not require many additional resources.
- We have had declining enrollment and at this time we do not anticipate that we will require additional staff for pre-k. We believe we will be able to shift teachers within schools to cover expansion during this initial three-year rollout.
St. Mary’s County
- As Pre-Kindergarten continues to expand, there are space concerns with available classrooms. As additional classes are brought on, a careful review of existing space, relocatable classrooms, and other options are being considered. Further, if new schools are built, additional space would become available for Pre-Kindergarten classrooms. Childcare providers offering three-year-olds placement in a Pre-Kindergarten program would allow SMCPS to find adequate space for four-year-olds.
- During the past year with the implementation of full day Pre-Kindergarten for all four-year-olds, a master schedule was developed that ensured all required components were addressed for students.
- National, state, and local early childhood staffing shortages present a challenge. SMCPS continuously recruits new talent, assists paraeducators in pursuing teaching credentials, and the Teacher Academy of Maryland in SMCPS is including Pre-Kindergarten for potential teachers who may wish to consider early childhood.
- Long term planning:
- Possible additional Pre-K 3 spots will be added in the future through partnerships with local providers. UMES Child Development Center has recently expressed some interest in pursuing Pre-K programming in the future. Though they would not be ready to do this in the upcoming school year, they have expressed interest in opening up one or two classrooms in the coming years and would have the added capacity of 20 additional Pre-K 3 slots.
- Continue reaching out to local childcare providers and assisting providers who wish to continue working towards EXCELS level 4 and/or wish to become an eligible private provider.
- Continue to provide joint professional development opportunities. Since SCPS has completed the accreditation process, SCPS will use its expertise to assist private providers with this process.
- Design a common pre-k information and application platform for SCPS and partner providers.
- TCPS is currently performing a comprehensive review of current infrastructure to determine which facilities can support additional Pre-K classrooms and outdoor areas with shaded options that meet the accreditation requirements.
- Additionally, TCPS is reviewing the number of non-certified staff who work with Pre-K students and offering supportive strategies for these individuals to earn certification, which we have extended to candidates in our local Grow Your Own program and Teacher Academy.
- TCPS continues to allocate adequate funding for maintaining essential instructional materials to ensure Pre-K programs can deliver high-quality instruction to all students.
- While we have expanded to include all 4-year-olds, we will continue gathering information from registration forms and collaborating with private providers, including those providers who serve 0–2-year-olds, to determine the capacity for supporting full-day Tier I 3-year-olds in the future.
- During the past 5 years, WCPS has continued expanded Pre-K programs to provide universal Pre-K for all 4-year-olds. WCPS provides a certified teacher in every Pre-K classroom. Our paraprofessionals who do not have an AA degree have the opportunity to earn their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential through WCPS. WCPS Pre-K expansion has resulted in provision of at least one Pre-K program in every elementary school, and two Pre-K programs located in two different high schools. WCPS is currently able to meet the needs of all 4-year-old students.
- WCPS Pre-K programs located at the high schools that partner with the Teacher Academy of Maryland Programs and allow high school students to have hands-on learning experiences. These experiences include high school students completing observations, writing lesson plans, and providing instruction in small groups and in one-on-one settings. The experiences also provide the opportunity for students to reflect on data.
- As WCPS plans for the building of new elementary schools, the plans will include 3-and 4-year-old Pre-K slots for at least 75% of the kindergarten enrollment numbers.
- Wicomico County Public Schools has been a recipient of the PreK Expansion Grant for the past 5 years. Currently, our 11 elementary schools house 7 full-day Prekindergarten three-year-old classrooms and 37 full-day Prekindergarten four-year-old classrooms.
- The county is challenged with increasing the number of classrooms due to physical space limitations within buildings.
- The proposed plan is to transition 5 of the Prekindergarten three- year-old classrooms to Prekindergarten four-year-old classrooms. The PreK Expansion Grant was awarded to 4 of our partnering childcare sites which have enrolled 64 children.
- WCPS will continue to support these sites and encourage additional childcare sites within our community to apply for PreK Expansion Grant funding.
- FY 24 2 Prekindergarten three-year-old classrooms with a total of 30 students.
- FY 24 4 Prekindergarten four-year-old classrooms with a total of 840 students.
- FY 24 Private Providers propose 3 Prekindergarten three-year-old classrooms with a total of 54 students.
- FY 24 Private Providers propose 3 Prekindergarten four-year-old classrooms with a total of 60 students.
- FY 24 One newly interested private provider proposes 2 Prekindergarten three-year-old classrooms with a total of 28 students.
- FY24 Head Start commits to enrolling three-year-olds in their Early Head Start program.
- WCPS will make the following operational changes to support the expansion of PreK both in the short term (ST) and long term (LT):
- Operating Systems – securing star seats/booster seat/harnesses; (ST), reviewing bus routes to ensure that bus transportation is available; (LT), and the addition of bus [aides] (LT), as needed.
- Schedules – when we apply for the expansion [grant] this year, we will need to ensure that gym and music (specials) are offered to our students and that teachers have opportunities for planning and that there is the appropriate number of adults for supervision during recess (ST/LT).
- Talent Pipelines – recruitment of early childhood teachers, paras with either an AA or CDA, and special educators, support existing PreK teaching assistants with their CDA/AA degree (ST/LT), creating partnerships with local universities and community colleges, local pipelines (grow your own); (ST/LT), increase Professional Development schools in partnership with Salisbury University (LT).
- Physical Space /Facilities – repurposing classroom space (LT).
- Resource Allocation – Continue to apply for PreK expansion grant, 2024/utilize blueprint funds in the future to purchase: furniture, supplies and materials of instruction, salaries and fixed charges, curriculum, and technology (ST).
- Food Service- ensure that the food service has the appropriate number of meals allocated (ST/LT).”