Lt. Gov. Brown outlines bill to expand prekindergarten

ANNAPOLIS — A measure to expand prekindergarten in Maryland for 1,600 children who are up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level will be part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative package, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said Thursday.

O’Malley has put $4.3 million in the budget for the initiative, which is the start of a broader goal Brown is pursuing in his campaign to succeed the term-limited governor. Brown wants to make prekindergarten universal in the state by 2018. Brown emphasized the educational advantage prekindergarten has for children.

“This way, by the time they get to kindergarten they are ready to learn,” Brown said at a news conference with House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The bill would create a pre-K expansion fund for businesses and philanthropic entities to contribute money to support future expansion. The Maryland State Department of Education would manage the fund.

As of the 2007-2008 school year, all local school systems in the state were required to make public pre-K available to all economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds. To qualify, they must come from a family whose income is at or below 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines. In the 2012-2013 school year, 26,402 children who are 4-years-old were enrolled in pre-K programs offered at Maryland public schools.

Expanding prekindergarten has been supported by other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Del. Heather Mizeur has proposed offering pre-K to all 4-year-olds and expand access to 3-year-olds. She has expressed support for legalizing marijuana and taxing it to pay for the expansion. Attorney General Doug Gansler supports fully funding full-day pre-K programs for up to 300 percent of the poverty level.

Last year, 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines was $70,650 for a family of four.