By Len Lazarick

The Kirwan education commission Thursday morning is set to take up the final detailed recommendations for much more pre-kindergarten in Maryland and higher salaries and a new career ladder for teachers — both programs with “significant fiscal impact.”

Two new polls out this week seek to bolster the argument that spending more money on these recommendations has broad support and is needed.

A Gonzales Research poll for the Maryland Family Network found 75% of Marylanders favor “expanding access to public pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-old kids in Maryland whose families choose to enroll them.” There was majority support across all parties, genders, races and regions, with strongest support from Democrats, African-Americans and the Washington suburbs.

The poll also found strong support for “providing access to public pre-kindergarten to 3- year-old kids from low-income families in Maryland whose families choose to enroll them,” with 70% favoring the idea.

Seven out of 10 likely voters (71%) also favor expanding programs for low-income families with children age 3 and younger, such as school-readiness services, parent education, job skills and child development. All the pre-k programs would be voluntary for those parents who want it. Because public schools lack the staff and facilities to handle larger enrollment for pre-k, current private and religious programs would also be used.

Less support for spending more

There was a little less enthusiastic support for spending more money on pre-kindergarten, with 63% favoring spending two to three times more than the $150 million the state currently does on pre-kindergarten for children of low-income families. Democrats, African-Americans and residents of the D.C. suburbs strongly favored the increased spending. Forty percent of Republicans were against spending more.

There was a heated dispute Monday between Gov. Larry Hogan and his Democratic opponent Ben Jealous over how much expanding pre-k would cost. The Hogan campaign said it might cost $1.2 billion based on an earlier consultant’s report, but Jealous said it might cost $224 million. There was a disagreement over whether the state would pay for all 3- and 4-year-olds — the basis of the governor’s estimate — or just those 4-year-olds who voluntarily enrolled — the basis for the Jealous figure.

The poll was part of a larger Gonzales survey conducted the first week in August and released last week. The questions on pre-kindergarten were commissioned by the Maryland Family Network, an advocacy group for early childhood education whose executive director, Margaret Williams, serves on the Kirwan commission.

The poll surveyed 831 likely voters by cellphone and landline, and has a margin of error of 3.5%.

Teachers poll

A survey among 800 members of the Maryland State Education Association, the 74,000-member teachers union, finds that many educators spend their own money on school supplies, work second jobs, and run up personal debt just to make ends meet.

Seventy-one percent of educators agree that inadequate staffing levels make their school days difficult and 69% feel that their school does not have enough funding to help every student be successful. Sixty-two percent agreed that “My salary makes it hard for my family to make ends meet.”

The teachers have been complaining for several years that public schools are underfunded. MSEA has a representative on the Kirwan commission, as does the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Baltimore City public schools.

The poll by GBA Strategies in Washington has a margin of error of 3.5%. MSEA released only two pages of the poll analysis.