The county hopes to increase early education spaces for residents in 2020
In 2020, Montgomery County plans to expand its initiative to create more spaces for early education in order to tackle the school system's achievement gap from the ground up. The initiative originated from the Kirwan Commission, a group Governor Larry Hogan created in 2016 to address the distribution of funding to public schools in Maryland.
On WTOP, County Executive Marc Elrich said that MCPS is looking for new locations and schools to add early childhood programs. They are also looking for teachers to fill positions at the new locations.
Margaret E. Williams, the executive director of the Maryland Family Network, explained on WAMU her hopes to open free pre-kindergarten (PreK) for all children. “The ultimate goal...is free access [preK] for everyone,” Williams said.
Last year, the State Department of Education presented a $1.58 million grant to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to fund pre-kindergarten education in elementary schools. The grant targeted schools with a large population of low-income students, and the money funded pre-kindergarten teacher positions as well as "paraeducators, access to a speech pathologist, support services and supplies and materials."
Elrich highlighted the urgency of early education expansion. Elrich said that around half of students entering kindergarten are two years behind other kindergarteners.
Currently, MCPS only offers free early education programs for children from families with a household income below $45,510 for a family of four. Looking forward, MCPS hopes to adopt universal prekindergarten care for all four-year-old county residents and to change half-day prekindergarten schedules to full days. The proposed 2021 MCPS fiscal year budget looks to allocate $1,261,221 to expand pre-kindergarten programs.
According to the State Department of Education, approximately 46 percent of kindergartners enter school without the proper foundational skills required for instruction. But economic status is not the only factor that impacts the achievement gap. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, an organization dedicated to solving world problems through data analysis, in MCPS, "English language learners and those from low-income families were already significantly behind their peers upon entering kindergarten."
In a letter to County Council members, the Department of Health and Human Services noted the importance of early education on long-term academic, career and social readiness. "PreK is an essential part of the early learning continuum for children ages birth through age eight," the report reads. "PreK helps to provide preschool-aged children with school readiness experience so that they can transition readily into Kindergarten and continue having successful school experiences."
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
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