ANNAPOLIS – Prekindergarten in Maryland will expand to include an additional 1,600 students across the state, after final passage Friday by the General Assembly.
Gov. Martin O’Malley included $4.3 million to fund the expansion in his fiscal 2015 budget, and he is expected to sign the measure into law.
The bill establishes a competitive grant program that will expand voluntary half or full day pre-K to four-year-olds from households that make less than 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or $70,650 for a family of four.
The measure passed by lawmakers also makes an appropriation mandatory starting fiscal 2016.
“Over the last seven years, we’ve [expanded] … access to high-quality education for Maryland families – and we’ve seen better results: today we have made the greatest gains in low-income student achievement nationwide,” O’Malley said Friday in a written statement. “With the passage of this bill by the General Assembly, we’ll ensure that every child in our state has the resources they need to compete not just nationally, but globally as well.”
The Senate passed the final version of the bill Friday 46-1. The House passed the measure Thursday 103-35.
The grants will be administered by the Maryland State Department of Education to qualified public or private early education providers. The bill establishes specific provisions for qualification, such as an average class size of 20 students per classroom, though the department may establish additional criteria.
Once a vendor has been awarded the grant, it must continue to receive money from the fund as long as it remains qualified.
Prior to June 1 when the bill would become effective, pre-K is available to families that earn less than $43,500 for a family of four.
Future expansion of pre-K is an issue of debate amongst the gubernatorial candidates, particularly the Democrats. Each has a unique goal with differing strategies.