Dear Senator King and Delegate Kelly:

On behalf of the children and families we serve in Montgomery County, thank you for your leadership as the co-chairs of the Joint Commission on Children, Youth, and Families. At Wonders, we strive to create and advance high quality, diverse education communities that teach children the foundations of life-long learning and responsibility. Your works helps support this important mission. We applaud the focus of your upcoming meeting, in particular, on ensuring access to pre-kindergarten for all of Maryland’s children. We hope, too, that in considering how best to implement such a program, you will do so with the full spectrum of services and programs meant to support children in mind.

Thousands of children in Montgomery County and across the state are showing up for kindergarten unprepared. In an effort to address this alarming trend, Maryland’s Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has explored the subject of universal pre-kindergarten. As executive director of a nonprofit early learning and extended day organization that is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and that serves more than 100 Montgomery County infants, toddlers and preschoolers, I am rooting for universal pre-kindergarten. But pre-k alone is not enough. As the Joint Commission discusses implementation of universal pre-k, it should:

Engage experts in its deliberations. Let Wonders and other providers of high-quality preschool programs help shape an age-appropriate curriculum for counties – one that meets the needs of Maryland’s diverse population. At Wonders, we serve students from low, middle and high-income families. Our children speak 20 languages; we see dual- language learners as an asset to our classrooms. In addition, our learning-through- play model, which focuses on social-emotional learning as well as cognitive development, has prepared thousands of students to be successful in school and in life. Develop a distributed model. Several school systems have indicated that they do not have the capacity to do this on their own because there is a shortage of classroom space, transportation challenges and infrastructure issues. It will take partnerships between the school system and existing community-based organizations to serve all the students in the state.

Recognize that getting ready for kindergarten begins at birth. Brain research shows that a child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three. Universal pre-k needs to be considered as part of a coordinated system of early care and education that focuses on children from birth to five years. A stronger, more equitable system will lay the foundation for more children to succeed in school, help reduce the achievement gap, and help build the workforce of the future. Invest in teachers. The average wage for early child care teachers in Maryland is $26,572. Not surprisingly, teacher turnover is high. Let’s invest in teacher salaries and benefits because teachers are the most important ingredient in high quality learning experiences.

Learn from D.C.’s experience. Implementation of universal pre-k in D.C. had several unintended consequences, including its impact on community-based infant and toddler programs. Let’s anticipate and address these challenges up front. As you are well aware, failing to invest in a high-quality coordinated system will have serious consequences for children, families and the community for many years to come.
Today’s infants, toddlers and preschoolers are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers, and parents. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in effective early learning programs can yield $7 to $10 in return from increased school and career achievement as well as reduced costs in remedial education, health and criminal justice system expenditures.

In the words of Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith: “Let’s provide pre-k to every child who needs it and every family who wants it.” To that, I would add: let’s invest in an accessible and robust coordinated system of early care and education that sets all children up to reach their full potential. As you continue your important work, please consider Wonders a resource. We look
forward to working with you to accomplish these important goals.

Sincerely,

Joanne Hurt

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