BALTIMORE – Doug Duncan, Montgomery County executive and Democratic candidate for governor, fleshed out his promise to make education his top priority Wednesday by pledging to improve early childhood education throughout the state.
At a press conference in Baltimore, Duncan spelled out the second part of his Education First policy, which focuses on improving early childhood education by fully funding the requirements of the Thornton Commission, by developing public private partnerships and by making schools a focal point of communities.
“Key to a better future for our children and our children’s children is a better education,” Duncan said. He said early childhood education is important in making this happen because “we need to make the most of those critical years.”
Duncan focused on funding and implementing recommendations of the four-year-old Thornton Commission plan that pre-kindergarten opportunities be available to all four-year-olds in Maryland.
Alvin Thornton, chairman of the commission which bore his name, said pre-kindergarten education is one of the key parts of the plan, which has been endorsed by the General Assembly and by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., though funding of it has been left on a year-to-year basis.
“I’m glad to see, as chairman, that (Duncan) is committing himself to the most important part of Thornton,” he said. “My philosophy is to get to kids early … then they will be prepared,” he said.
In his announcement, Duncan also spelled out some of the functions of the Duncan Education Cabinet, which was the first part of his proposed Education First policy. The cabinet would be made up of members from a range of state agencies and would supplement the Maryland State Department of Education’s work.
Duncan said the cabinet would be responsible for a $1 million program to inform parents about the availability of pre-kindergarten. It would also create a $5 million fund devoted to the facility and transportation needs of jurisdictions to provide pre-kindergarten. Duncan’s plan allocates another $5 million in challenge grants for the cabinet to attract matching funds from the private sector to develop early childhood education.
“It differentiates itself from other education plans because people focus strictly on K-12. (Duncan) recognized you don’t start learning when school starts, it starts before you get there,” said Linda Heisner, deputy director of the Advocates for Children and Youth, which does not endorse political candidates.
As part of the plan, Duncan wants to provide adult education, job training and language classes at schools to help make schools the “focal point of communities.” Heisner said this will particularly help families where English is the second-language connect with the school. Jonathan Epstein, spokesman for Duncan’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, said O’Malley also “believes in full funding of the Thornton Education plan – the whole thing. As we’ve seen in Baltimore, a strong commitment to pre-K education can have positive, lasting results on our children.”