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Early childhood education funding ‘not enough to really build the future that we need’

The $10.7 million in federal funding designated for Maryland’s early childhood education and care services will help support children from low-income families by focusing on their communities, a children’s education advocate said.

The state’s Congressional delegation announced the federal funding given to the Maryland State Department of Education and to the Y of Central Maryland will be used to expand early learning options for low-income families, provide educators with additional professional development opportunities, and support family well-being programs.

“Early childhood has been underfunded for a long time, probably historically,” Christina Lopez, president of the Maryland Association for the Education of Young Children, told The Center Square. “And when the pandemic hit those things were just exasperated, but those problems were there before.”

This funding, she said, will help make progress to ensure every child and every family has access to quality education and care in the formative years of life.

The state is set to receive $8.9 million for its Every Student Succeeds Act Preschool Development Grants Program. The Y’s Head Start program will receive $1.7 million.

Five programs will get preschool development grants to strengthen the state’s early childhood system, Lopez said. The Department of Education is looking at compensation and the system used to ensure quality and that it supports the workforce.

The funding will make sure the workforce has and develops the competencies, skills, and abilities necessary to affect the trajectory of a child’s life, but not at the expense of the workforce.

“I think that looking at systems is how we really transform and make a new early care system that works for everyone,” Lopez said.

Increasing the capacity of local early childhood advisory councils and community organizations like the Maryland Association for the Education of Children will enable them to partner with the state Department of Education. That will allow them to ensure early childhood education at the levels of quality that is the mission of her organization.

The Y of Central Maryland’s Head Start program provides comprehensive early childhood education for children and families that have very limited resources. Head Start has shown it improves outcomes for children by providing education, health and nutrition support, social services, and special education services for children and their families.

The funding comes at a difficult time amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the effects of the pandemic have really exasperated problems that were there before but have really put us into a crisis mode because the workforce wasn’t supported,” she said.

A workforce crisis exists in early childhood education as centers are unable to open because they don’t have enough staffing. But families are unable to find childcare and women are leaving the workforce.

This field historically has been staffed by women, she said, and these women have for years subsidized the system by taking low wages to care for children despite the cost of tuition being out of reach for families.

The pandemic shed a light on some of these issues and made the difficulties even worse. These funds can help expand the programs to get children back in safe environments and parents back to work, she said.

“This money is a good start, but it’s not enough to really build the future that we need so that every child in every family has access to this kind of care and support in those very formative years,” Lopez said. “You just don’t get those years back. They really do shape us for the rest of our life.”

This article was originally posted on Early childhood education funding ‘not enough to really build the future that we need’

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