Ehrlich, O'Malley set to endorse campaign for children, families

Pledge toward goals requires no firm money commitment

October 20, 2006|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun reporter

Gubernatorial candidates Martin O'Malley and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are expected to sign on to a campaign promoting the expansion of programs helping young children and families.

The More for Maryland Campaign, which is to be launched today in front of City Hall, is asking candidates for public office to sign a pledge to "create more opportunity, demand more responsibility and deliver more results for our tax dollars every day."

The pledge is vague enough that spokesmen from both campaigns said they believe there is little in it not to like.

"We could not ask them to commit a dollar figure because they wouldn't do that," said Hathaway Farebee, executive director of Safe and Sound, a group leading the initiative.

Education is an important component of the gubernatorial campaign, and in a televised debate Saturday, O'Malley, the Democratic mayor of Baltimore, and Ehrlich, the Republican governor, both highlighted their records on improving early childhood education in the state.

Ehrlich said he had consolidated programs under the Maryland State Department of Education. He referred to a move in August 2005 that transferred the child care administration from the Department of Human Resources to the state education department.

That administration is responsible for the licensing and regulation of day care centers and in-home day care providers in the state. The shift was significant because there has been greater emphasis on what school readiness skills are being taught in day care and Head Start centers, according to Rolf Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent for the division of early childhood development.

The state education department has also taken over the operation of a program that subsidizes day care for poor families.

Grafwallner said his office is now trying to increase the payments to child care providers.

In the Saturday debate, O'Malley mentioned the city's emphasis on providing more extensive pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes.

The city was one of the first districts in the state to have full-day kindergarten in every school. Since then the state has moved to require it in every school by the fall of 2007.

And the city also began phasing in full-day pre-kindergarten at some of the lowest-performing schools about five years ago. Today, unlike surrounding county districts, the city has pre-kindergarten at most of its elementary schools.

In the debate, O'Malley credited the increase in elementary test scores to the early childhood education programs.

The city schools revamped their reading and math curriculum in 1999 as well and have seen annual test score increases in nearly every elementary grade and subject since then.

Safe and Sound has helped organize and raise funds for after-school programs throughout Baltimore. But More for Maryland is much broader and attempts to get elected officials to transfer the $600 million spent on prisons, foster care and juvenile detention to programs that help those people stay healthy and productive.

Ehrlich and O'Malley have already committed to some of the goals of the new campaign.

O'Malley's city budget this year included $6.9 million for after-school programs. And the city provided financial support for the Success By 6 Initiative, which helped pregnant women give birth to healthy babies and raise them in safe environments.

Ehrlich and the legislature have put $3 million into a reserve fund that would help support a program offering addiction treatment to parents whose alcohol or drug abuse resulted in their children being taken from them and put in foster care.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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