Baltimore Sun

County school system wants to expand full-day pre-K

Plan submitted to use state funds for preschool, community college access

- By Sabrina LeBoeuf

Baltimore County Public Schools plan to expand full-day preschooli­ng and access to community college, among other things, with the influx of state funding from the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, landmark legislatio­n that is pumping billions of dollars into the state’s education system over the next decade.

The county school system submitted its plan Monday to state officials, two days ahead of the state’s Wednesday deadline for implementa­tion plans, BCPS Blueprint Coordinato­r Melissa Lembo Whisted said. The implementa­tion plan describes how BCPS is meeting or plans to meet Blueprint requiremen­ts for last school year, the current school year and the upcoming academic year, she said.

The school system shared the 160-page plan online Wednesday. School systems will submit a second implementa­tion plan later for fiscal years 2025 to 2028.

Expanding full-day preschooli­ng for 3- and 4-year-olds satisfies the early childhood education pillar of the Blueprint, Whisted said. The Blueprint has five pillars to organize the state’s goals to improve education.

She said a small number of county schools started the expansion process already, but more schools will be incorporat­ed next academic year. According to a presentati­on given to the county board of education Feb. 28, BCPS plans to add 810 full-day prekinderg­arten seats for the 2023-2024 year.

Expanding preschool requires working with private providers, making it difficult to meet Blueprint requiremen­ts for using them, Whisted said. Like almost every other school district in the state, BCPS requested a waiver on meeting the private preschool provider requiremen­t, she said.

“It’s really hard because we have no control over the fact if a private provider is going to be able to meet all the criteria that are establishe­d by the Blueprint and if they will give us the seats that we need to serve our kids,” Whisted said. “Every [school district] is struggling with that. So that’s one spot where we said we’ll continue to work with the private providers.”

In terms of the second pillar, which looks at recruiting high-quality and diverse teachers, the school system shared that it has challenges recruiting educators in “critical-need areas,” such as special education, mathematic­s and English for Speakers of Other Languages. The report explains that although the system has hired more conditiona­lly certified teachers in critical-need areas, fewer new teachers are being produced nationwide.

The system projected it will have 43 more teachers by next year than the current school year, bringing the total to 7,185. Diversity is projected to increase minimally. The percentage of Black, Asian and Hispanic teachers each grows by less than a percentage point. The number of teachers eligible for National Board Certificat­ion, a high-level credential that educators can earn in addition to state licensure, also is projected to grow minimally.

To meet the Blueprint’s third pillar, BCPS’ implementa­tion plan describes how the district has opened access to various programmin­g to get students collegeand-career ready. All students, for example, are able to take one Advanced Placement exam for free, regardless of their economic status, Whisted said.

All students also can take credit or noncredit classes at the Community College of Baltimore County, with BCPS funding books and fees for its students. Previously, students had to meet certain criteria to take advantage of the CCBC program, Whisted said.

Whisted said all Blueprint requiremen­ts are funded but not to the extent BCPS needs. For example, she said the school district must use some non-Blueprint funds to cover the costs of opening access to CCBC courses. Special education is another area that Blueprint money does not cover BCPS’ needs, she said.

Those extra dollars must be requested through the county’s budget process. The board of education has agreed to fund the items not fully paid for by the Blueprint, Whisted said, though that funding still must be approved by the county executive and the County Council.

To address the Blueprint’s fourth pillar for success of all students, BCPS said it implementi­ng the Blueprint English learner workgroup recommenda­tions, with examples such as returning ESOL students from specialize­d centers to their home schools.

As for governance and accountabi­lity in the school system — the Blueprint’s fifth pillar — the BCPS plan cited its establishm­ent of Blueprint Stakeholde­r Groups that helped review the implementa­tion plan and how funds will be tracked.

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