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House approves expansion of pre-K

The House of Delegates approved legislation Monday that would expand the state's pre-kindergarten program to include 1,600 more children, handing a victory to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The measure, which passed on a mostly party-line 102-34 vote, would make Maryland children from families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line eligible for pre-K. The administration has included $4.3 million in its budget for next year to expand the state's existing program. A companion bill has passed the Senate, but approval won't be final until one chamber passes the other's bill.

Pre-K education has emerged as a central issue in the race for governor, with all three Democrats in the race offering competing plans to expand it even further and Republican candidate David R. Craig opposing its growth.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, one of the Democratic candidates, issued a statement claiming the vote as an administration victory.

"While we have some of the best schools in the nation in Maryland, this important step will help close the achievement gap that exists between too many of our minority and low income students and their peers," Brown's statement said.

Republican delegates asserted Monday that the benefits of pre-school education was unproven, while Democrats maintained that extensive research has shown that early education benefits children all the way through high school.

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