Testimony of Sara Watson to the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee

Source Organization: Pew Center on the States

Speaker: Sara Watson

Senior Officer, Pew Center on the States

Venue: Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee

02/18/2009 - Hello. Good afternoon especially to Senator Kramer, from my home district.

My name is Sara Watson and I am a senior officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts where I help manage Pew’s initiative to encourage states to offer voluntary, high quality pre-k to all 3 and 4 year olds. And I’m a proud Marylander of over 40 years.

I am here today on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts to encourage you to support SB 234, a bill codifying the Department of Education’s pre-k Business Plan.

This legislation is important because of the high return-on-investment that pre-k offers and the importance of such investments in tough economic times.

Maryland’s early education system is ahead of the curve on many fronts, but much work is left to be done to ensure Maryland is nationally competitive. For instance, strong systems of accreditation, assessment, and curricula are already in place. These smart early education policies were one reason that Education Week ranked Maryland first in the nation for education.

Despite these successes, Maryland falls behind her peers when it comes to guaranteeing access strong early education.

Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have passed laws guaranteeing universal access to pre-k, and 12 states have no public pre-k. Of the remaining 30 states, Maryland’s eligibility criterion, which is 185% of Federal Poverty Guideline, puts it squarely in the middle of the pack.

Even in tough times, states are investing in pre-k because of the hard research showing that it can provide lasting benefits for a state’s children, and its economy.

While it is not a magic elixir, hard, randomized trial research on disadvantaged children has shown that pre-k can have substantial impacts on children’s success in school and in life. More recent studies on programs that reach all children show academic gains across all income levels.

A study by economist Robert Lynch of Washington College showed that a targeted pre-k program in Maryland would recoup its costs in 10 years, with an ultimate benefit-cost ratio for the state of more than 12:1. A universal program would have a ratio of more than 8:1.

In addition, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have repeatedly stated that expanding pre-k will be a top priority. As Secretary Duncan recently told the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, “America cannot afford to wait until children are five or six, because too many lives are being lost.”

Funding for early learning is included in the economic recovery bill. SB 234 would help position Maryland to use well any new federal funds for early learning.

In these critical budget times, all levels of government are being forced to reexamine their priorities and to only promote policies that have the highest returns-on-investment.

Pre-k should be prioritized, because it helps ensure that the workforce of tomorrow will be competitive in an increasingly demanding global marketplace. That’s why this Marylander and The Pew Charitable Trusts strongly urge you to pass Senate Bill 234.

Thank you.

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