Report: Universal Pre-K in Montgomery County Could Cost Up to $128 Million Annually

Report: Universal Pre-K in Montgomery County Could Cost Up to $128 Million Annually

Analysis finds long-term benefits of early education outweigh the expense

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Offering universal pre-kindergarten programs in Montgomery County would cost between $113 million and $128 million each year, according to a new legislative analysis.

The report released to County Council members on Tuesday found that early learning programs pay off by reducing child welfare and criminal justice costs, lowering spending on special education and school support, and increasing future income for participants. Legislative analysts also determined that high-quality, full-day programs lead to the best student outcomes. But extending these programs to all 13,000 of the county’s 4-year-old children would be no small feat, according to the report by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

Montgomery County’s existing public preschool, which costs $23 million each year, is only available to about 3,300 children and is composed largely of half-day programs, according to the report.

Lengthening all existing classes to run the entire day and opening up 1,100 new slots for lower-income families could cost up to $35 million annually, the county analysts estimated in the report. Creating half-day programs for all families earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level could add as much as $35 million each year. Serving these families with all-day classes could cost up to $35 million more, the report estimated. 

However, the long-term benefit of offering pre-K to all children could total nearly $600 million each year, the analysts found.

County Council member Hans Riemer said he's considering a proposal that would invest in a quality pre-kindergarten program for low-income families. He discussed his plan at a community meeting in Silver Spring on Monday night where he estimated the program would cost about $20 million per year. He also said he expects other council members to put forth different proposals.

Most jurisdictions that have pursued universal pre-K have rolled out the expansion gradually, the report indicated. For instance, Boston and West Virginia phased in their services over the course of a decade.

States that provide universal pre-K often tap into lottery revenue or general funds to support the programs, the research showed. Local jurisdictions typically rely on sales and property tax revenues or fees from sliding-scale tuition payments to pay for preschool education.

The report suggested that council members gauge educators’ interest in expanding pre-K, discuss how to fund new slots and consider focusing resources on lower-income communities.

The council in 2015 directed the legislative analysts to prepare the report.

Andrew Metcalf contributed to this report.

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