Maryland has won as much as $50 million to build up its early childhood education programs, one of just nine states splitting $500 million from the federal government.
The state will use the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund Grant, spread over four years, to expand its rating system of child care centers across the state; improve assessments given to students entering kindergarten; and align its early learning standards with federal guidelines.
The idea of the grant, from the federal education and health and human services departments, is to close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in the schools by intervening before at-risk kids reach kindergarten.
"Especially for families struggling financially, their children for a lot of reasons are often less prepared, and the children of immigrant families are often less prepared -- frankly, they're trying to learn a language still," said William Reinhardt, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education. "We hope this program will bring early language skills to these kids."
Maryland has become drastically more diverse in the last decade, with no areas more affected than those near Washington. Nearly one-third of students in Montgomery County and more than half of those in Prince George' qualify for free or reduced lunch. More than 13 percent of Montgomery students participate in English for Speakers of Other Languages, with about 12 percent of Prince George's students.