Montgomery County is unveiling its Early Care and Education Initiative, a four-year action plan to significantly expand child care options for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, provide greater access to more families and support schools and community-based providers. This effort is led by Council President Nancy Navarro and the County Council, County Executive Marc Elrich, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College.
According to the Montgomery County Early Child Care and Education Strategic Plan 2017, Montgomery County is home to more than 76,000 children under the age of 6. About 30,000 (roughly 40 percent) of Montgomery County’s youngest children are economically vulnerable, which means they live below 300 percent of the federal poverty level (below $71,550 for a family of four). Local data for the 2018-2019 school year show that only 54 percent of kindergartners demonstrate readiness.
“Having so many of our kindergartners enter school two years behind has serious implications. We know that there is a critical link between early childhood education and brain development, and we know that investing in ECE yields huge, long-term dividends for our children and the rest of society,” said Elrich. “Starting with kids early must be a top priority – it’s one of those few things we can identify that has the potential to be a real game changer. That is why – in this difficult budget year – we’ve identified $7 million to move toward this important goal. As a former school teacher, I saw firsthand the impact of poverty and the lack of access to ECE on the classroom.”
Montgomery County has established four outcomes for this plan that will meet the developmental needs of infants, toddlers and preschoolers and support the professionals that care for them.
The County will expand early care and education opportunities by increasing the number of seats in school-based classrooms as well as in family- and center-based child care settings; improve access by reallocating existing resources to assist families in meeting the high cost of early care and education; expand the training and professional development options to ensure both a workforce that is ready and prepared to teach children and support leaders to manage and sustain high-quality, child care facilities; establish a working group to resolve barriers to expansion, access and sustainability of quality child care in the County, and explore the development and/or collocation of ECE programs in commercial private, public, faith-based, and intergenerational settings.
“Work on early child care and education has always been part of my personal and professional life," said Navarro, who serves on the Council's Education and Culture Committee; was a member of President Obama's Educational Excellence for Hispanics Early Childhood Education Committee; and served as president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. "Local leaders have a moral and economic obligation to increase the access and capacity of child care and educational opportunities for our youngest residents and their families.”
Montgomery County has increased access for income eligible middle-class families through the County child care subsidy program, Working Parents Assistance (WPA), which supplements the Maryland Child Care scholarship program, funded by the State’s Department of Education. The WPA program increased eligibility from $64,200 to $83,082 for a family of four, allowing more families to qualify. Parents interested in child care options can visit the HHS Child Care Subsidy website or call 240-777-1155.
To support this year’s expansion of 600 seats, the Montgomery County Child Care Resource and Referral Center will aim to recruit 50 family child care homes and provide operators with the necessary supports to operate a licensed child care home. Existing center-based early head start seats will be funded beyond age 3 to ensure continuity until children can enroll in head start or prekindergarten programs. In addition to the 2,897 prekindergarten students it already serves, MCPS will open a full-day early childhood center in September of 2019 to serve 85 to 95 general and special education students. This will increase the ability to serve students enrolled in a full-day setting from 1,020 to approximately 1,100 students.
“Research shows the positive impacts of early learning opportunities that are rich in language exposure,” said MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith. “We must focus on providing this opportunity for children who may not have resources to access early learning independently. The MCPS Board of Education has committed $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget to open a new early childhood center in UpCounty to add slots, complementing our existing early childhood center at the new MacDonald Knolls Center in Silver Spring.”
Montgomery College has several programs dedicated to enhancing both the skills and credentialing of early childhood teachers and the business performance of child care operations. In partnership with the Child Care Resource and Referral Center, these programs will support the sustainability of current providers and the successful establishment of new providers.
“The College offers a variety of early childhood programs, including degrees, certificates, and credentialing programs in English and Spanish,” said Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard. “This diversity allows us to best serve the unique educational needs of our students and help them reach their potential. We hope to expand these offerings to graduate more students with the skills to educate young children and to enhance child care operations.