Investing In Universal Voluntary Pre-K

Dear Marylanders,

Over the past seven years, we’ve built the #1 public school system in the country because we believed that education was – and is – the best way to ensure that all Marylanders have a chance to succeed. Even as we faced the toughest economy since the Great Depression, we made record investments in our schools, knowing that our children’s futures start in our classrooms. Most importantly, we have never stopped working with our educators, students, parents, community leaders, and partners in local government, all of whom have put Maryland’s children first.

But our work in education is far from finished. Having the best schools in the nation is not enough if even a single child in our state is denied the opportunity to learn, grow, and reach her or his potential. And the truth is that there are still children in our state who do not have access to the education available to their fellow students.

It is time for us to take the next step as we continue to build a world-class school system for each and every child – in each and every neighborhood – throughout our state.

That step starts with early childhood education – the foundation on which all of our efforts in education are built. While the benefits of Pre-Kindergarten education are well known, too many families do not have access to quality, affordable Pre-K.  The # 1 school system in the nation can and should do better.

My proposal is simple: we must create a universal, high quality and voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) program in Maryland. 

That is why, as Governor, I will set aside enhanced gaming revenue to invest in our children and create a universal Pre-K program in Maryland.

Universal Pre-K is easy to promise, but tougher to deliver – there is a real cost, and it will require some changes in our schools, including expanding school buildings themselves and partnering with local school systems and existing community based providers. So while some parts of this plan will go into effect immediately, it will not happen overnight. Ultimately, our plan ensures that by 2018, every Maryland family will have the option of sending their 4-year-old to a quality Pre-K program where they can learn and grow.

These programs will help start our children on the path toward educational success, and we will not stop working until all Marylanders have access to the education they need and deserve.


Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown

To download a PDF version of this plan, click here.


Maryland Pre-K Today

Maryland currently provides universal education to more than 800,000 children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Maryland also provides Pre-K to nearly 29,000 children through a combination of State and federal funds. Based on the number of children who attend kindergarten, we estimate that an additional 32,000 children would attend public Pre-K each year if given the opportunity.

In FY2014, the State spent $6.03 billion annually on public Pre-K through 12 education (not including capital investments). Fully funding Pre-K by 2018 would cost an additional $138 million a year, comprising just 2.23% of the total education budget.

Pre-K History in Maryland 


Maryland was one of the first states in the country to begin a Pre-K program, starting with a pilot program in Baltimore and Prince George’s Counties in 1980, and we have continued expanding coverage ever since.

In 2000, Maryland established the Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Family Education Centers, which today serve 12,000 children a year. And as a result of the 2002 Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act, Maryland now provides Pre-K to children in economically disadvantaged families (generally those families making less than 185% of the federal poverty line).

In addition, a federal grant of $50 million over four years was awarded to Maryland in 2011, which has allowed the State to fund 13 pilot Pre-K locations that expand eligibility up to 300% of the federal poverty line (about $60,000 a year for a family of four).

All of these investments have brought us closer to truly universal access to Pre-K in Maryland, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Objective #1: Expanding to Universal Pre-K

“As Governor, I will ensure that Maryland creates a universal, high quality and voluntary Pre-K program by the end of 2018.”    - Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown

 The Benefits of Early Education

A recent Pew study explained the importance of Pre-K, noting that, “It multiplies the effects of later reforms by narrowing early achievement gaps and ensuring that children are fully prepared to learn and thrive academically, physically, socially and emotionally.”   In fact, the College Board argues that states seeking to increase college readiness “must intervene in the earliest years” and recommends expanding Pre-K.

Economic Benefits
The benefits of Pre-K extend well beyond education. Over time, an increase in early childhood education not only pays for itself, but also significantly increases economic activity. In fact, a 2007 study found that here in Maryland, revenues to the State Treasury would increase more than $2 for every $1 spent on early education. The overall return on investment on general economic activity is predicted to be 8.7 times the amount that we invest. This is because investments in early education help children succeed later in life and reduce the likelihood that a child will end up needing government assistance or spending time in a correctional facility.

Objective #2: Expanding to Full Day

“By 2022, Maryland will have full day Pre-K for every child.”  - Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown

Study after study has shown that full day Pre-K has even more benefits than half day for the children involved. In addition, full day Pre-K gives added flexibility to working parents. While the benefits of full day Pre-K have costs, ultimately the goal should be to make sure that every child and parent in Maryland has access to and the option to participate in quality, full day Pre-K.

More than 12,000 children already receive full day Pre-K through the Judith Hoyer centers, and many other current Pre-K programs are full day as well.

We should expand full day Pre-K the same way we have with half day, by targeting the families most in need and then expanding access as additional funding becomes available. This gradual and deliberate expansion will also allow time to study the costs, benefits and outcomes of the various types of programs for children over the long run.

At the same time, in order to ensure full day Pre-K has proper socioeconomic diversity, the State should allow parents of higher means to pay for full day Pre-K until the program is fully phased in. Based on a sliding scale, parents would pay a fee to their provider (public or private) for the second half of the school day.

Full Day Pre-K Benefits Parents and Children
Expanding to full day doesn’t just benefit the children, it also benefits working parents. As University of Massachusetts Amherst economics professor Nancy Folbre explained, “The net benefits loom even larger when the value of increased work flexibility for parents is added in.”

Regional Competitiveness
When new parents are deciding where to live or companies are deciding where to locate, Pre-K can play a big part in that decision. As the New York Times recently noted, Washington, D.C. offers universal Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and that has led to an increase in the number of families that stay in the district after having their first child. Expanding to full day Pre-K will make us more competitive with our neighbors.

Costs and Implementation

Every major educational expansion initiative must be undertaken in a fiscally responsible and well planned manner. To ensure appropriate implementation and fiscal prudence, the expansion will be phased in and included as a part of the upcoming education adequacy study required under the Thornton law. As a result, universal Pre-K will not be fully phased in until 2018.

In the early years, expanding access to Pre-K should be carried out at the local level with a funding allocation from the State to each county that allows local school districts flexibility in developing and expanding their programs.

To date, Maryland’s gaming revenues have significantly exceeded estimates in the Education Trust Fund and, although these funds have been required in recent years to prevent reductions to funding for public education, it is an appropriate time to use a specific allocation of these funds for this new purpose. The fiscal impact of the initial Pre-K expansion will be limited by the amount of funds allocated.


Over 2013 baseline

Over 2013 baseline


    • Add 1,000 slots in pilot programs around the state that allow families with up to 300% of the FPL to enroll;

UPDATE: In 2014, Lt. Governor Brown led the Administration’s efforts to pass the Pre-kindergarten Expansion Act of 2014 (SB 332). This legislation will build on Maryland’s existing pre-K system and expand the number of pre-K slots available to include Maryland families that earn up to 300 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines.


  • Initiate a study on universal Pre-K to update the Maryland State Department of Education’s 2009 plan “Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan.”



  • Allocate $20 million above FY2015 funding to create an additional 4,600 slots over 2013 baseline;
  • Begin outreach programs to families eligible but not currently enrolled;
  • Begin a scholarship program to train additional teachers;
  • Begin expanding the number of full day Pre-K slots.


  • Allocate $35.5 million above FY2016 funding to increase total slots by nearly 13,000 above 2013 baseline;


  • Allocate $29.5 million above FY2017 funding to increase total slots by nearly 20,000 above 2013 baseline.


  • Allocate $52.6 million above FY2018 funding to increase total slots by more than 32,000 above 2013 baseline.

Costs per Half Day Slot

Based on existing implementation and programs in other states, we estimate half-day Pre-K to average $4,300 per student. This cost may vary based on how the program is implemented.

Estimates on the cost per slot have varied somewhat over the years. The 2009 Maryland Department of Education report entitled “Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan” estimated each slot to cost $2,705 per child per year. A later fiscal note on expanding Pre-K estimates the cost to be between $4,500 and $5,000 per child per year, but points out that an exact cost is difficult to estimate given the fixed costs and variety of programs.

Looking at other states that have implemented large scale Pre-K programs also helps refine the cost number. Georgia, for example, provides 6 ½-hour Pre-K to more than 75,000 kids through a state lottery at a cost of about $4,360 per slot.

Georgia Costs

This means that total costs could run as high as $138 million a year for 32,000 additional students once the program is fully running. At the same time, because this program is voluntary, it is likely that it will take years before participation reaches the same level as public kindergarten.

It is important to note that the funding proposed is fixed rather than the number of slots. If Maryland or a local jurisdiction is able to implement this program at a lower cost than anticipated, then that will result in additional slots being available each year. Alternatively, if costs are higher than anticipated, then that will mean a reduction in total slots, rather than an increase in spending. This approach is required due to the uncertainty caused by Federal sequestration and the difficult budget environment the State has faced since the economic crisis of 2008.

Local Costs

Because this is a new program the State is expanding, it is incumbent upon the State to assist the counties with their obligations under the maintenance of effort law.  Especially in the first years of the program, as the State is scaling up, the overwhelming majority of funding will be provided by the State.  Only after the program is fully implemented will the State start to move to a more traditional funding model.

Funding Source

The passage of Question 7 will allow Maryland to increase funding to education.  The revenue from this has just started to come in and is expected to increase rapidly over the next few years as all new gaming facilities come online.  The revenues are dedicated for education, and as a result, are already approved for programs like Pre-K.  At the same time, because this revenue has still not fully begun, the state will implement Pre-K over several years, expanding as the revenues increase.


* Over 2013 baseline

UPDATE: The State invested $4.3 million in its budget this year to fund the first phase of Maryland’s Pre-K program expansion, which will benefit an additional 1,600 children.

Preparing for Running Start Maryland 

Expanding to universal Pre-K is an important initiative, but it will require more than just funding slots for kids.  We will need to train additional educators, build more facilities, and make sure that we are reaching out to all Maryland families so that every child can benefit from the program.

Scholarships for Childcare Teachers

As we send tens of thousands of additional children to Pre-K, Maryland will need to train more educators. This is especially necessary to maintain current student-teacher ratio requirements. Study after study has shown just how important a highly-effective educator or child care provider is to a child’s success later in life.

To facilitate this expansion, the State will offer early childhood education degree scholarships for those who are willing to commit to teaching in Maryland for at least five years. Participants in any Maryland program that the State Department of Education deems valid for early education certification would qualify.

In addition, the State will work with higher education partners in Maryland to facilitate part time and after hour certification for providers.

Cost: This program will be funded at $2.5 million a year in 2015, and $5 million a year after that through 2018.

Outreach to Eligible Families

Pre-K already exists today for people making up to 185% of the poverty level, but many of these families are unaware of the program. However, current Pre-K slots do not go unused since schools are able to offer them to other families. A strong effort must be made to let families know this program exists.

Maryland should start by ensuring that when parents sign up for CHIP or other social service programs, those parents are made aware of Pre-K eligibility. Given the timeline of implementation, the State will be able to adopt the best practices from outreach on the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid for Families expansion of 2008 to create a targeted outreach program. This will ensure everyone who wants to put their child in Pre-K knows how to do so.

Cost: While much of this can be done simply by changing existing procedures, the program should set aside $1 million in 2015 and 2016 for advertising and expanded outreach.


Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan  recommended that the State continue to allow local school systems to contract with qualifying private Pre-K programs to provide the service, but some jurisdictions have chosen to offer the programs within public schools and others simply cannot find enough qualified providers to do anything else.  Especially in the first years of this program, each local school district should be given the authority to determine how they want to implement this program.  As best practices are developed, it may be appropriate for the Maryland State Department of Education to develop statewide standards for implementation by local school boards.  Regardless of setting, certified teachers will provide the Pre-K instruction.

  Cost: In the short term there will not be any substantial capital improvements specifically for Pre-K.  As the program expands, the State should increase construction funding by at least $10 million a year in the capital budget.



Public School Enrollment Projections 2009 – 2018,” Maryland Department of Planning, September 2009, Page 55-56 61,000 children enrolled annually in kindergarten
“Senate Bill 878,” Department of Legislative Services, 2012 Session page 5
87.6% of 69,090  “Public School Enrollment Projections 2009 – 2018,” Maryland Department of Planning, September 2009, Page 55-56, Page 14
“Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan,” Maryland State Department of Education, 12/2009, page 7
“Judy FAQs.” MSDE, accessed 9/12/13
“Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan,” Maryland State Department of Education, 12/2009, page 4
Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future,” Pew Center on the States, September 2011, Page
“The College Completion Agenda,” College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, Page 8
“Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation Maryland Summary,” Lynch, Economic Policy Institute, 7/9/2007
“Age 21 Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Title I Chicago Child-Parent Center Program,” Reynolds, Chicago Longitudinal Study, June 2001
“Kindergarten – Full Versus Half-Day,” Mary Ann Rafoth, NASP Center, 2004
“Full Day Kindergarten,” Public School Review, 11/27/2008
“Full-day and Half-day Kindergarten in the United State,” NCES, June 2004
“Judy FAQs.” MSDE, accessed 9/12/13
“Statewide Directory of Public Pre-K Programs,” Maryland State Department of Education, 2011-
“The Push for Universal Pre-K,” Folbre, New York Times, 9/30/2013
“In D.C., Where Universal Free Preschool Is Becoming the Norm,” Moser, New York Times, 8/16/
“Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan,” Maryland State Department of Education, 12/2009, page 20
Senate Bill 878,” Department of Legislative Services, 2012 Session page 11
“Kindergarten Matters,” Raj Chetty, Harvard Magazine, November-December 2010
“Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain,” Annie Lowrey, New York Times, 1/6/2012“The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers,” Raj Chetty et al, Harvard University, December 2011
“Kindergarten Matters,” Harvard Magazine, O’Donnell, 11/2010
“Frequently Asked Questions,” Maryland State Department of Education
“Maryland’s Preschool for All Business Plan, Maryland State Department of Education, December 2009


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