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Brown's pre-K promises don't add up

Throughout the last two months, the Anthony Brown campaign has accused Larry Hogan of being "extreme" and "dangerous" in regard to his views on two volatile issues — a woman's right to choose and the regulation of assault weapons. Time and again, in a variety of forums, Mr. Hogan has rebutted these scare tactics for what they are—total distortions of his record. Yet the Maryland Democratic Party and the Democratic Governors Association insist on beating the same dead horses ad nauseam.

As we near election day, however, there is one issue on which Mr. Brown's record needs to be examined. The Brown campaign promises to provide universal pre-kindergarten education. On his campaign website, he says, "As governor, I will ensure that Maryland creates a universal, high quality and voluntary pre-K program by the end of 2018." And just to draw the battle line in the sand, one of his glossy mailers pictures a little girl sitting at a preschool worktable, looking forlornly into space while bold red print declares, "Hogan Opposes Universal Pre-K."

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Anyone following the Hogan campaign knows that Mr. Hogan does not oppose pre-K education. But he does not believe that Maryland can afford the kind of sweeping promise Mr. Brown makes. Doubting the affordability of a program is not the same as opposing it, as Mr. Brown would have voters believe. But, since he has raised the issue, Mr. Brown needs to be held answerable for several serious concerns about his proposal.

Universal pre-K in Maryland is not a new idea hatched by Mr. Brown during an election year. A 2007 report to the O'Malley-Brown administration from the Economic Research Institute pointed out that "the overall return on investment on general economic activity is predicted to be 8.7 times the amount that we invest … because investments in early education help children succeed later in life and reduce the likelihood that a child will end up needing government assistance or spending time in a correctional facility."

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In 2009, the MSDE's "Maryland's Preschool for All Business Plan" laid out for the O'Malley-Brown administration a framework for implementing universal pre-K in Maryland. What did they do with it? Mr. Brown's website's answer: "Pre-K already exists today for people making up to 185 percent of the poverty level, but many of these families are unaware of the program. A strong effort must be made to let families know this program exists." Unaware? So where has the leadership been?

Perhaps the task has been too great. A pre-K classroom is required to be staffed at no higher than a 10:1 ratio (two adults in each room), with the lead teacher being certified in Early Childhood Education. Further, determining site location is a challenge because many schools lack available space, and relocatable classrooms are not a viable option for pre-schoolers. As a result, public programs are frequently found in licensed day care centers and other private facilities, subject to MSDE oversight.

In his campaign rhetoric, Mr. Brown promises "to build a world-class school system for each and every child — in each and every neighborhood — throughout our state." It is interesting to note that, in his July 28 appearance at the White Marsh Child Care Center, his headline read "Lt. Governor Brown, MSDE Announce $4.3 Million in Grants to Fund Maryland's Prekindergarten Experience." However, the funds were hardly dispersed "throughout the state." The map embedded in Mr. Brown's press release shows that most of the money went to centers along the I-95 corridor, his political base. Only three Eastern Shore centers benefited, and no allocations were made west of Frederick.

Mr. Brown's plan calls for increasing the state's education budget by $20 million in 2015, another $35.5 million in 2016, yet another $29.5 million in 2017, and a whopping $52.6 million in 2018. That totals an additional $298.1 million over the next four years for a budget that has already grown from $263.7 million in 2010 to approximately $400.8 million in 2014. His only hint of how he will pay for these increases lies in his observation that "Maryland's gaming revenues have significantly exceeded estimates in the Education Trust Fund."

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Since Mr. Brown has also promised that "in a Brown-Ulman administration, there will be no new taxes," Mr. Hogan's concerns about the program's affordability seem well founded. That's the difference between a businessman and a glib politician. And that's why I have chosen to be a Democrat for Hogan.

George W. Nellies, Towson

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