State lawmakers propose 'Race to the Tots' program

Two Baltimore city lawmakers have proposed legislation that would draw funding from the state's lottery revenue to support expanding early childhood education programs.

The legislation would create a program called "Race to the Tots," -- named after the federal "Race to the Top" program- - and allow local districts to compete for grants that would "stimulate innovation for and expand access to high-quality early childhood education in Maryland," according to a release sent jointly by the bill's sponsors Sen. Bill Ferguson and Del. Sandy Rosenberg.

Under the proposed legislation, Maryland school districts would submit proposals to expand their early learning programs over the course of three years.

The programs would aim to "provide and coordinate existing services for families to identify and address any health, behavioral and developmental needs of children with high needs."

The state has been recognized nationally for its emphasis on early childhood education, receiving its highest marks in that category in a 2012 national report card published by Education Week, which named Maryland the No. 1 school system in the nation for the fifth year in a row. 

But, nearly two-thirds of the state's pre-schoolers don't have access to high-quality enrichment programs, the release said, and the program would reach at least 750 of them.  

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has identified the state's increased investment in pre-k and kindergarten programs as the most fruitful of his education platform.

According to the state's Maryland Model for School Readiness, which assesses whether students have the academic and social skills to succeed in school, the state has seen a 38 percent increase in the number of students who enter kindergarten prepared under his tenure.

The $10 million in annual funding for the program would come from the state's Education Trust Fund, the lawmakers said, which is funded by proceeds from Maryland's video lottery terminals, the release said. The districts would need to supplement funding through private fundraising.

The Maryland State Department of Education would be the stewards of the funds, and award grants to districts whose proposals show "innovation, expansion of services to low-income and high-need families, and the ability of a jurisdiction to engage private stakeholders in matching funds for early childhood education enhancement."

To read the "Race to the Tots" bill, click  here.