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SB 581 (Crossover): Workgroup to Study the Implementation of Universal Access to Prekindergarten for 4–Year–Olds

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Senate Bill 581, with the attached amendment.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Senate Bill 581 establishes a workgroup to study the expansion of prekindergarten access to all Maryland four-year-olds.  The Workgroup would be tasked with making recommendations regarding an implementation plan to make quality, full–day prekindergarten universally available to all in the aforementioned age group.  This bill further provides that the Workgroup shall consider “a mixed delivery system of public and private providers”.

When the General Assembly passed the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014, it was acknowledged that Maryland would not be able to achieve a robust expansion of prekindergarten services to Maryland’s children without the participation of private providers.  The 2014 expansion act thus allowed for expansion sites to be awarded to private providers.

We agree that a diverse delivery system, utilizing both public and private providers is absolutely necessary in the provision of high-quality private prekindergarten programs in our state.  All three Maryland (arch)dioceses have a strong commitment to education and recognize the important role that kindergarten-readiness plays in a child’s educational development.  Within the State of Maryland, there are approximately 120 prekindergarten programs in Catholic schools or parishes, not including Headstart programs.  Nearly all are accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by MSDE and a vast majority of them employ state-certified prekindergarten teachers.

The Catholic Conference urges your support for SB 581, with an amendment to add a representative of the Maryland nonpublic school community (see attached).  While this bill already provides a seat for “one representative from a private prekindergarten provider”, a more broad representation of the private provider community is necessary to effectively consider the logistics and availability of high-quality prekindergarten expansion sites through Catholic and other nonpublic schools.