Council President Continues Push To Expand Early Childhood Education

Navarro calls for ‘dedicated funding stream’ dedicated to pre-kindergarten services

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In her new County Council leadership role, Nancy Navarro continued her push to expand early childhood education during a Thursday gathering of Montgomery County political and civic leaders.

“I strongly believe that respect and equity of access for all our residents must begin literally at the cradle,” Navarro said at the Committee for Montgomery County’s annual legislative breakfast in North Bethesda.

“If we are serious about maintaining our competitive edge as a county and as a nation, the work of preparing our future workforce for a rapidly evolving job market must start with a comprehensive early care and education system,” she said.

Navarro has been advocating for early childhood education expansion since 2011, during her first term on the council, and in recent years the county has made headway on the issue, including the opening of the county’s first regional pre-kindergarten facility in November.

About 1,300 4-year-olds countywide attend full-day programs and 1,900 attend half-day public programs.

The number of full-day slots at publicly-funded programs has increased by nearly 1,000 in the past year and the number of 4-year-olds in “high quality, publicly funded full-day programs” has jumped from 585 to 1,283 in the past two years, according to county data.

But officials estimate expanding pre-kindergarten services to every 3- and 4-year-old in the county carries a $32 million price tag.

In prepared remarks, Navarro reaffirmed her belief that the county should establish a dedicated funding stream directed specifically to early childhood education services. Her vision includes a “phased-in initiative that starts with the neediest children,” and is assisted by organizations across Montgomery County.

“We must be strategic and invest in the early years because it is simply the best return on our investment and prepares all our children to be ready to learn,” said Navarro, who was elected president of the nine-member council last week. She represents Council District 4.

Another factor weighing into the early childhood education formula is a slate of recommendations expected to be released by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education this month. A week ago, the commission, known as the Kirwan Commission, said its recommendations would equal about a $4.4 billion increase in state education funding over a decade. The increase would mainly fund expanded pre-K programs for low-income students and teacher pay increases.

The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations aren’t final.

The Democratic state legislature and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan must find a way to pay for any reforms proposed by the commission. Hogan recently said he believes Kirwan’s preliminary price projections are too high and can’t be done without raising taxes, which he pledged not to do.

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