It’s no secret that I think that the cost and availability of quality PreK and child care is one of the most pressing issues Montgomery County families face. This Council’s attention to this issue has yielded an Early Care and Education Strategic Plan and an OLO report that light the way forward. It seems clear to me from these reports that the first concrete step we can take is to make full day PreK available to all four year olds from families living below 300% of the federal poverty line. These students are overwhelmingly not receiving PreK now, and are starting kindergarten already behind their peers. We then spend many millions more to try to help them catch up.
OLO estimates that this PreK expansion might cost $35 million. I had suggested that we try to find $5 million in this budget to begin this investment. While we learned that it was not possible to get that full amount up and running for this next school year due to space, staffing, and procurement constraints we were able to invest $2.5 million – which will provide 240 new full day pre-k slots this school year for our most vulnerable children. We also expanded our child care subsidy program by $2 million.
For next year’s budget I suggest we try to provide $10 million to continue this PreK expansion. I’d like to work with my colleagues, MCPS, HHS, the County Executive, and other stakeholders to make this happen. Combined with the $2.5 million expansion in this year’s budget, that would get us much closer to the $35 million goal.
I am hoping that Councilmember Rice will be able to bring us a major new investment from the state. I also recognize that, for a broader expansion to be sustainable we need a dedicated revenue source as Councilmember Navarro has been advocating and we should seek private investment as well. I know Councilmember Hucker has been working on this as well. But in the meantime, I am no longer willing to wait – this is a step we can take within our existing system while we pursue these other options.