In a previous post, I advocated for a commitment to equity in Howard County Public Schools so that all students have access to the best resources and highest quality of instruction, whether they live in affluent or less-privileged neighborhoods.

Sadly, our universal Pre-K program shows we are falling short in our equity commitment and failing our neediest children.

According to a statewide study prepared for the Maryland State Department of Education, 778 of the 3,905 four-year-olds in Howard County are not getting the universal Pre-K services they need to successfully transition into kindergarten. Read that again: We are failing to provide for the universal Pre-K needs of 20 percent of our four-year-olds.

There is even distressing news for youngsters fortunate enough to find space in universal Pre-K programs, either in the public system or through school partnerships with private day care centers and homes: just 5 percent of these programs are at Level 5, the highest score on the “EXCELS” rating scale used to assess the quality of Maryland preschool programs.

The lowest of the low scores are in Developmentally Appropriate Learning, Administrative Policies and Practices, and Accreditation and Rating Scale.

This state of affairs is especially troubling when we consider the decades of research proving that high-quality pre-K  programs benefit all our children.

One well-known study from the 1960’s tracked 123 low-income African American students; some enrolled in a high-quality universal Pre-K program with trained staff, and some did not. The groups were tracked all the way to 2004.  Those who received excellent universal Pre-K opportunities far outperformed those who did not in school attendance, high school graduation rates, and earnings.

Later studies confirm that students who receive high-quality universal Pre-K opportunities reap benefits lasting a lifetime. These benefits accrue not only to the individual and their families, but to their communities and society at large.

Evidence shows that:

  • Access to Universal Pre-K decreases the need for special education services, offering a significant savings in school budgets.
  • Universal Pre-K allows both parents to join the workforce, attracting better employers and more talented employees to the area.
  • Instances of child abuse and neglect decline, saving countless families the horrors of these crimes and reducing the amount governments are required to spend in response.
  • Universal Pre-K reduces juvenile crime, lessening the burden on law enforcement and the courts.

So how can we address our inequities and reap these benefits for our children and community?

First, let’s acknowledge what we are doing right. Children most at risk, the economically disadvantaged, homeless, and those in foster care, are given first priority in the Howard County Pre K program.  This is an excellent start in breaking the cycle of poverty and abuse which many of these young people may otherwise face.

The District has partnered with licensed child care centers to help those youngsters be kindergarten-ready. This is a smart, inclusive idea which I applaud.

However, it is clear that insufficient capacity (read: lack of appropriate funding) means fewer and fewer of our four-year-olds are able to attend HCPSS universal Pre-K programs.  On the HCPPS website, parents are even told it is ‘unlikely’ their children will be accepted if they do not belong to the first-priority group.

Even now, the majority of four-year-olds receiving universal Pre-K instruction are in private or home child care, where the quality of instruction and availability of resources varies and where evaluation scores are poor, according to State Department of Education data.

This is the very definition of inequity and we must address it.  The concept of equity demands that we standardize access to educational resources and teachers, provide the funding to provide excellent materials, facilities and instruction, and make it available to all. Equity means sufficiently funding our universal Pre-K services, consolidating them within the HCPSS framework, and working with state partners to help.

ALL of our children deserve trained teachers, clear learning goals, aligned curriculum, and an appropriate child/staff ratio everywhere, every time. That’s the “universal” in universal Pre-K. Funding, consolidation and standardization will make that happen.

It is our role as education leaders to advocate for equity, both in the meeting chambers of Howard County and in the halls of the legislature.  We must have a Board of Education committed to finding solutions, identifying funding, and pulling together partnerships that will create equity in education, once and for all.

I believe my vision and leadership will be a valuable addition to the ongoing discussion, and help me lead the charge for equity on our Board and beyond.

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