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Early-Childhood Education Already Hot Topic in 2014 Md. Governor's Race

Early-childhood education has already become a hot topic in Maryland's 2014 governor's race, with five of seven candidates rolling out or commenting on others' plans to expand the state's preschool programs—a harbinger of a trend I think we'll see in many states as the campaign season heats up.

Consider that Democratic contenders Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, and Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Mongomery County have all articulated means to expand pre-K and are differentiating them in the media.

The Republicans, too, see enough promise in the topic to debate it in the press: Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar don't have plans specifically on early-childhood education, but have addressed the subject in their local paper, The Baltimore Sun.

A third Republican, Harford County Executive David R. Craig, told that newspaper that Maryland should focus its efforts instead on K-12.

Brian Vaeth, also a Republican, does not list early-childhood education on his list of priorities on his webpage.

All of the Democrats want to expand preschool, but they aim to do it in different ways.

Highlights include Brown's first big move in his campaign was to announce "Running Start Maryland," a program which provides for voluntary universal, full-day pre-K for all 4-year-olds by 2018, with a ramp-up from half-day to full-day by 2022.

Gansler declared the achievement gap "Maryland's great mortal sin" on his Facebook page earlier this month, then proceeded to articulate a six-point education plan that includes expanding pre-K from half-day to full-day, as well as increasing the number of children who are eligible.

Mizeur went public with her early-childhood plan just Friday morning. She is advocating for eventual universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds regardless of income as well as half-day pre-K for low-income 3-year-olds.

Adele Robinson, the deputy executive director of policy and public affairs for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a D.C.-based nonprofit, admits to being downright heady over the Maryland scenario.

"We've clearly arrived," said Adele Robinson, the deputy executive director of policy and public affairs for the Natoinal Assocation for the Education of Young Children, a D.C.-based nonprofit. "We've got public awareness and political awareness, now we need more political will."

Added Kris Perry, the executive director of the Washington-based First Five Years Fund: "In Maryland the interest in early childhood we're seeing from gubernatorial candidates is driven by three things: The fact that early-childhood education is smart public policy, that Maryland has a legacy of leadership in early childhood education, and that there is overwhelming public support for increased investments in early-childhood education."

She added that nationally 70 percent of voters approve of increased investments in early-childhood education, and place early childhood as the second most important issue, behind only jobs and economy..

"It's so heartening," Robinson said of the political debate surrounding early-childhood education, "to see people talking about it."

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