States taking steps to further goals in early education

States taking steps to further goals in early education

(Md.) Maryland joined the growing list of states putting greater emphasis on early education when Gov. Martin O’Malley earlier this month signed a bill expanding the state’s preschool program.

Under the new Pre-Kindergarten Expansion Act of 2014, Maryland will spend $4.3 million to extend publicly-provided pre-kindergarten classes to nearly 1,600 more children by increasing eligibility levels and creating a competitive grant program.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who authored the legislation, has said it will help close the achievement gap between low-income students and other children.

More and more, states are looking at ways to increase access to pre- or transitional kindergarten programs, a priority laid out by President Barack Obama in his State of The Union address last year. His comments created the framework for the administration’s Strong Start for America’s Children Act, and the hope is that it will improve access to full-day learning opportunities by establishing federal/state partnerships and accelerating progress already made in early education by states.

Under Maryland’s new law, 4-year-olds whose family household income is at or below 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines will be eligible for free pre-K, down from the current 185 percent. Local educational agencies and licensed preschools and daycare centers are eligible to participate in the program by offering half- or full-day pre-kindergarten classes.

Right now, one group of California lawmakers is pushing a plan to offer transitional kindergarten, or TK, to every 4-year-old in the state. During a Senate Education Committee hearing earlier this month, the majority of members praised the idea behind the bill despite disagreements about the details – including funding, which is expected to cost $1.5 billion a year once fully implemented.

Sacramento County sheriff Scott Jones, speaking on behalf of the group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said at that hearing that “research shows children who benefit from early education are 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school and are much less likely to commit crimes later in life.”

Research, in fact, has attributed both long- and short-term benefits to quality early education. Researchers in a study published in the November/December 2013 edition of Child Development found that a pre-kindergarten coaching system had “moderate-to-large impacts on children’s language, literacy, numeracy and mathematics skills, and small impacts on children’s executive functioning and a measure of emotion recognition.”

A study published in the first issue of the Asia Pacific Journal of Developmental Differences in January found that after 18 months, researchers saw “sustained improvements” in pre-K students’ memories, “a key predictor of success in early learning, as well as in gross motor skill.”

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