Targeting Early Childhood Education in Montgomery County

Targeting Early Childhood Education in Montgomery County

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro and County Executive Marc Elrich held a press conference March 7 with councilmembers, Montgomery College President Dr. DeRionne Pollard, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools Dr. Jack Smith, Board of Education President Shebra Evans, child care providers and community leaders to share their vision for developing an initiative for a comprehensive system of high quality accessible and affordable early childhood education. The goal of this plan is to ensure that all children in the county between zero to five years of age have access to quality and affordable early care and education services, with initial priority being given to underserved populations in the roll-out of expansion services.

There are approximately 76,498 children under the age of six in Montgomery County. Four out of 10 of these young children are economically vulnerable, living below 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

The first-year goals for the initiative include expanding the availability of licensed family childcare slots by 600 children in high-need areas; using existing funding from the Childcare Expansion and Quality Enhancement Initiative to pilot a program that will target these high-need areas and create cohorts of prospective licensed family childcare providers; and a recommended addition to the MCPS year 2020 operating budget of $1 million to expand pre-kindergarten programs, through Child Care Resource and Referral Center, the Judy Centers and Montgomery College.

Navarro’s full remarks at the press conference follow:

Good afternoon! I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. And here we are, all united for a common cause – Early Care and Education for All. I just want to thank each one of you in this room for working collaboratively to make today possible. Yes, we can do this, because, yes, equity matters.

For me, today is the culmination of a very personal journey, I come to this issue as a consumer, provider, advocate and policy maker.

As a young mother, I experienced firsthand the difficulty of finding quality, accessible and affordable child care.

After several attempts, I decided to take matters into my own hands — I quit my job and became a Family Child Care Provider for four years, until my eldest entered kindergarten at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School. I wrestled with the concern of interrupting my professional career, but never once questioned my choice, because it allowed me to stay home with my daughters, educate other children and secure an income.

When my daughter entered kindergarten, I started to focus on this issue called the “achievement gap” or the “school readiness gap.” I began to research the issue and became convinced that the most impactful interventions must occur in the first five years. I had met many unregulated child care providers, mostly women, mostly immigrant women, who wanted to become licensed, and own their own small business, while providing early care and education to children, but were too intimidated by the licensing process. That is how Centro Familia was born. That’s how I became an advocate.

As a policymaker since 2004, the vision of affordable early care and education has remained a top priority for me. It has taken me on an interesting journey, as a member of President Obama's Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Early Childhood Education Committee, as a member and president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, and now on the Council.

So why are we doing this? Well, because this is a moral and an economic imperative. We must design and implement a high-quality early care and education system at scale, with dedicated funding.

The United States is the only developed nation with a growing aging population and a young population. This young population is socio-economically, racially and ethnically diverse, and disproportionally affected by an opportunity gap that leads to an academic achievement gap. How can we maintain our competitive edge as a nation, if our workforce is not prepared for the rapidly evolving job market? We must be strategic and invest in the early years. It is the best return on investment and prepares all our children. It is the great equalizer.

We must confront the fact that in our county currently, only 25 percent of children from low-income households entered kindergarten ready to learn. The rates for English language learners and children with disabilities are lower yet at 21 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Preparing all children to be ready to learn from the onset of school avoids the need for costly remediation interventions and is critical to closing the opportunity gap that leads to an academic achievement gap.

Taking into consideration research, feedback from former and current colleagues and feedback from the community, I have authored a framework that will guide this initiative. It provides for a four-year action plan.

Year one will leverage and target existing resources and services in order to achieve specific outcomes. It also simultaneously focuses our efforts in expanding capacity and infrastructure in order to scale up the initiative in years two, three and four.

The success of this initiative will depend on capacity expansion and dedicated funding.

We all have a role to play, because the task is enormous. Nonetheless, I believe that between the Executive, my County Council colleagues, MCPS’ leadership, Montgomery College’s leadership, the provider community, parents and other stakeholders, we in Montgomery County can finally achieve this.