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Will Maryland Mandate Pre-K for All 4-Year-Olds?

Timing is running out for Maryland lawmakers to pass legislation that would make preschool available to every 4-year-old in the state.

The proposal, known as "Preschool for All," would require local school districts to offer full-day prekindergarten to low-income kids and half-day programs for other children. Maryland public schools currently only offer half-day prekindergarten to 4-year-olds who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

According to the Maryland Education Coalition , only 35 percent of 4-year-olds have access to the state's current half-day pre-K program.

Hearings on the bill were held in March, but it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will act before the legislative session ends Monday. Paying for the plan could be an issue, as it has been in cash-strapped states across the country that have scaled back or stopped expanding prekindergarten programs to save money.

Both the House and the Senate of the General Assembly have their own versions of the bill. The House version requires the state to pick up most of the tab for universal prekindergarten, but doesn't specify how to pay for it, while the Senate version would use revenue from table games at the state's casino gambling sites, according to news reports.

Education advocates who are pushing for the bill's passage note that research has shown the long-term benefits of providing quality pre-K to kids, including decreasing the number of students who are retained in later grades and who require special education services.

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