COMMITTEE: SENATE BUDGET & TAXATION, EDUCATION BUSINESS & ADMINISTRATION SUBCOMMITTEE
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Maryland Prekindergarten Expansion funding as included in the proposed FY2021 Operating Budget. The Conference represents the interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
Six years ago, legislation established a competitive grant program for the purposes of expanding prekindergarten services to four-year-olds whose family income is 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or lower. Prior to that time, only about a third of Maryland’s four-year-olds attend state-funded public prekindergarten, through a program enacted in 2002 and limited to 185% of the FPL.
When the General Assembly passed the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014, it was acknowledged that Maryland would not be able to achieve a robust expansion of prekindergarten services to Maryland’s children without the participation of private providers. The 2014 expansion act thus allowed for expansion sites to be awarded to private providers.
The current program supports the expansion of prekindergarten through a wider diverse delivery system, utilizing both public and private providers. Through that model, Maryland can employ a number of the myriad of high-quality private prekindergarten programs statewide to provide prekindergarten services to an expanded group of lower-income four-year-olds.
All three of (arch)dioceses serving Maryland have a strong commitment to education and recognize the important role that kindergarten-readiness plays in a child’s educational development. Within the State of Maryland, there are approximately 120 prekindergarten programs in Catholic schools or parishes, in addition to Headstart programs. Nearly all are accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by MSDE and a vast majority of them employ state-certified prekindergarten teachers.
With these values in common, our schools are enthusiastic about partnering with the state in providing prekindergarten service to more Maryland families, particularly to those who are economically disadvantaged. It is for these reasons that we ask the Committee to maintain the proposed FY 2021 allocation.