By Lauren Loricchio, Capital News Service
Eliminating the achievement gap has become the center of discussion for Maryland’s 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Takoma Park, announced Thursday three education proposals aimed at closing Maryland’s achievement gap, following plans presented by the other two Democratic candidates.
“Closing the gap will be a priority of my administration. The only way to truly level the playing field is to start with early childhood education. That is where we know we will have the biggest impact,” Mizeur said at a campaign event at a Baltimore child care center.
Mizeur’s plan promises to expand the current state prekindergarten program, as well as after school and summer programs. She also wants to improve access to childcare for families.
While all three Democratic candidates contending for governor agree the state’s current prekindergarten program should be expanded, Mizeur’s plan promises to expand it to more families.
And her opponents agree the state should expand its pre-K program.
"Delegate Mizeur is right to point out the importance of pre-K for all Maryland children. We look forward to a continued discussion about the best way to achieve this goal in Maryland,” Justin Schall, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s campaign manager, said in response to Mizeur’s plan.
Mizeur’s plan will provide full-day prekindergarten to all 4-year-old children at all income levels and will offer half-day pre-K to 3-year-olds from a family of four making less than $70,650 per year. Her plan would be phased in through 2018.
“By the end of my first term all families will have access to full-day preschool for their 4-year-olds, while lower and middle income families will have access to half-day preschool for their 3-year-olds,” Mizeur said.
The first step of the plan expands the current half-day program to a full-day for families of four earning $70,650 annually or less. The second phase outlined in the plan, expands full-day preschool to families earning $108,915 per year or less. The third phase would offer full-day preschool to all children regardless of family income. The last step would provide a half-day program to 3-year-olds of families earning less than $70,650 per year.
Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler, both Democratic gubernatorial candidates, called for expansion of pre-kindergarten as well.
Brown’s plan would offer universal pre-K to 4-year-olds in two phases and will cost $138 million once fully executed. He promises half-day pre-K for all children by 2018 and full-day pre-K for all children by 2022, although some parents will be required to pay a fee for the second part of the day depending upon their income.
Gansler’s plan, estimated to cost $20 million in its first year, will expand the current half-day pre-K program for 4-year-olds to a full-day in 2015 for families earning $70,650 or less per year.
Bob Wheelock, a spokesman for the Gansler campaign, said of Mizeur’s proposal, “I think it’s in line with our plan. One differentiation between our plan and hers, is that we want to wait to see the results and then expand.”
Gansler has also proposed a grant program that will incentivize confronting literacy challenges, expanding summer programs to bridge gaps in learning, and creating a volunteer corps that would support his proposed pre-K program, according to information on his campaign website.
Both Brown and Gansler say they would use state gambling revenue to fund their programs.
When asked if she would use gambling revenue to fund pre-K expansion, Mizeur replied, “No, I think that it is a really bad idea to expect middle income and low income families in Maryland to lose at casinos in order to fund educational opportunities for their children.”
But Mizeur did not offer specifics on how she plans to fund pre-K expansion. Her plan is estimated to cost more than $279 million once fully established.
“This is a priority for my administration. These programs will be funded. This is beginning the course of a nine month conversation on a whole range of interconnected proposals,” she said.
Mizeur, Brown, Gansler and Republican Harford County Executive David Craig are scheduled to speak Friday in Ocean City, hoping to win the endorsement of the teachers’ union. Two other GOP candidates, Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel County, and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar are not scheduled to speak at the event.