ROCKVILLE – The County Executive, County Council, public school system and staff announced a new four-year plan to expand access to child care for children ages 0 to 5 March 7 due to a severe need in the region.
County Executive Marc Elrich said the initiative, the Early Care and Education Initiative, will be a public-private partnership, involving not just the school system and Montgomery College but also private child care providers.
Council President Nancy Navarro said the county aims to add 600 new childcare seats in the first year of the ECE plan. The 600 seats would include 400 seats in family childcare providers, which operate primarily in homes, while the remaining 200 may be in MCPS facilities and the early learning center at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, Navarro said during the press conference on March 7.
The rest of the council members voiced their enthusiasm and hope for the upcoming plan.
To expand early child care access in the county, Elrich and Navarro said, the county needs more than just money.
The expansion of care will require facilities and child care providers, as well as training for future child care providers, which will be offered at Montgomery College.
The county lacks enough facilities to house all the early childcare it would need, and it does not have enough trained child care staff to work in and operate early care and learning services, Elrich said. Without enough staff and “expanded training and professional development,” the county and private providers together still would not have enough people to manage the early care and learning services.
Therefore, the county needs “pathways in place to create the teachers to fill slots,” Elrich said.
“This problem is complex,” Elrich said about expanding ECE.
The county will target areas that its Office of Legislative Oversight identified in reports on early childhood care in 2016 and in 2018.
“The bulk of this year, the work we will do is expand the number of slots in family child care in those identified areas in the county (described by the OLO report), while we then work, as the county executive has announced, with the work group” to identify additional infrastructure locations in which to provide the care, such as store fronts and faith centers, Navarro said.
The Montgomery County Child Care Resource and Referral Center, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, will seek to recruit 50 family child care homes, and give them supports to become licensed and operate as a “licensed child care home,” a county official said.
Elrich said that he, as a teacher, observed how missing “early care and education” negatively impacted children’s education.
“We know that there is a critical link between early childhood education and brain development, and we know that investing in ECE yields huge, long-term dividends for our children and the rest of society,” Elrich said. “Starting with kids early must be a top priority it’s one of those few things we can identify that has the potential to be a real game changer.”
Elrich said that despite the county being in a “difficult budget year,” county government agreed that early childhood care is a necessary investment, and it will put $7 million into ECE.
Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith agreed with Elrich that early childhood care and education are important for children’s development.
“Research shows the positive impacts of early learning opportunities that are rich in language exposure,” said MCPS Superintendent Smith. “We must focus on providing this opportunity for children who may not have resources to access early learning independently.”
Smith said the MCPS Board of Education committed $1 million in the MPS Fiscal Year 2020 budget to “open a new early childhood center in Upcounty to add slots.” MCPS also has a new early childhood facility, the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center in Silver Spring.
Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard said Montgomery College will be involved in the ECE expansion by offering business training for childcare providers as well as early childhood education for aspiring early learning and care providers.
“The college offers early childhood degrees, certificates and contract trainings in English and Spanish,” said Pollard. “This diversity allows us to best serve the unique educational needs of our students and help them reach their potential. We hope to expand this offering to graduate more residents with the skills to serve young children and parents by delivering outstanding early care and education.”
County officials wrote in a news release that local data for the current school year show about 54 percent of kindergarteners demonstrate readiness for their grade level.
More than 76,000 children under age 6 live in the county, according to the Montgomery County Early Child Care and Education strategic plan 2017. About 30,000, or about 40 percent, of the county’s “youngest children” are economically vulnerable, meaning they live on income less than $71,550 for a family of four.
Some home child care providers were present for the press conference.
“We’re finally getting answers,” said Veronica Azari-Versaq, a secretary for the Latino Child Care Association Maryland, after the press conference.
Azari-Versaq said providers in her association are happy that the county wants to work with home child care providers. Recently, the providers had been wondering how the county would address the need for early child care and education.
“This is better (information) than before, because we didn’t know what was going to happen to the providers,”Azari-Versaq said.
The Latino Child Care Association MD consists of several home care providers, including some which operate in Montgomery County.