O’Malley touts all-day preschool in Cedar Rapids stop

B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pushed all-day preschool and a retooled senior year of high school as focal point of his education plan during a stop in Cedar Rapids on Friday.

Speaking at an educational roundtable sponsored by Every Child Matters, a Washington D.C.-based issue advocacy group, O’Malley said starting all students with a base level of knowledge of numbers, colors, shapes and other early proficiencies would help close the education gap between rich and poor.

“There is no better return on investment when it comes to closing the gap between the performance of kids from wealthier households and poorer households than that early childhood stuff,” said O’Malley. “That is the single most important thing we can do.”

O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, stopped at the Human Services campus as part of a three-day, seven stop swing through Iowa.

The federal government would encourage states to boost early childhood education by matching dollars to launch full-day preschool under his plan, he said.

Senior year of high school would also change, he said. Seniors would leave with a meaningful diploma, a year of college credit, and a certificate for an in-demand skill to enter the workforce, he said.

Under his plan, students could graduate college and be debt within five years, he said.

The roundtable was made up educators and others in childhood services.

Kelli Soyer, the state director for Every Child Matters, said she hope all major party candidates will participate. O’Malley is the third candidate to do so, after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.

O’Malley faced questions on whether he’d federally-mandate kindergarten, which is not mandated in Iowa, address the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions on minorities, and support trauma-informed care for agencies that work with children.

“When he didn’t have an answer, he acknowledged that, and wanted to know what we thought, what the experts thought,” said Okpara Rice, the chief executive of Tanager Place of Cedar Rapids, who asked about discipline disparity. “Not everyone has command of every issue, but you want to see a willingness to look more at the issue.”

Kelly McMahon, a teacher and part of the Iowa State Education Association, said she was pleased O’Malley discussed support for non-traditional students and a college loan repayment plan.

Rice and McMahon both identified themselves as undecided voters.

O’Malley said he supports income-based college loan repayment so teachers are not burdened after graduation, and addressed college cost and student debt.

He said he wants to realign the priorities of higher education more directly with degree attainment and creating multiple pathways for returning students to get degrees. O’Malley said community colleges and online universities can be “linchpins” to achieving college degrees, lowering cost and reducing debt.

“I think we need to be much more adaptive in terms of a hybrid approach, so that every course isn’t imparted with the sage on the stage but the guide on the side and can handle greater volumes and greater flexibility of schedules,” he said. That’s “a big part of how we can get more out of our university systems.”

While O’Malley has been among the more regular visitors to Iowa, he lags in the polls.

According to poll aggregator, Real Clear Politics, O’Malley is polling at about 4 percent in Iowa and 1.7 percent nationally, well behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sanders

Originally published August 14, 2015 The Gazette