County report cites need for expanded pre-kindergarten
Preschool needed to close achievement gap
More of the county's 4-year-old children need access to high-quality preschool services before they enter kindergarten, according to a report released this week by the County Council's Preschool Implementation Work Group.
The group, convened by County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, also suggests that the county expand any preschool services to communities with the greatest need, maintain full funding for childhood services and create a panel to coordinate preschool services countywide, among other recommendations.
"Pre-kindergarten education is a proven strategy for offsetting the challenges of poverty, language, learning disabilities and mobility," Ervin said Monday. "It's about giving each child an opportunity to reach his or her full potential in life."
In December 2007, a statewide task force sent a report to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and the General Assembly, which recommended the state develop a plan to create and increase access to free preschool programs to all 4-year-olds by 2014.
Montgomery County is the first in the state to release its plan. The group, approved in July, was formed to develop recommendations for implementing the countywide program.
The county has 13,500 residents who are 4 years old, and 3,969 are entitled to public preschool services based on family income, according to county data.
However, 1,324 4-year-olds eligible for publicly funded pre-kindergarten are not taking advantage of preschool services, according to the work group's report.
The statewide task force said it would cost $120 million to implement a Preschool for All program. The county would have to pay 30 percent of that cost, or $17.7 million, according to the report.
Providing access to pre-kindergarten would help close the achievement gap between some black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian-American peers, said Craig Ramey, director of the Center for Health and Education at Georgetown University.
"We can have kids who come from the most-challenged families performing as well as kids from advantaged families, if we get to them early enough," Ramey said.
With pre-kindergarten, "that's how kids learn a great deal of what schools want them to know," he said. "Those experiences really lay a foundation for how well kids will do in school."
The report is the latest in the county's efforts to provide services to economically disadvantaged students.
Last summer, Ervin and school leaders launched a free lunch program for students at John F. Kennedy High School, Argyle Middle School, and Georgian Forest, Strathmore and Bel Pre elementary schools in Silver Spring.
The school system has piloted the John F. Kennedy Cluster project, which offers pre-kindergarten classes for black students at Georgian Forest and Bel Pre elementary schools, both in Silver Spring, in part to monitor their progress.
The state Department of Education released a report last week that showed children enrolled in public preschool programs, child-care centers and nursery schools were more ready for school than their peers who stayed at home or in the home of relatives.
In Annapolis on Tuesday, lawmakers heard Del. Tom Hucker's bill to require the state education department to consult with and accept comments from county superintendents and local governing bodies before publishing its Preschool for All business plan.
If the bill passes, the education department would have to submit the report to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and the General Assembly by Dec. 1.