ROCKVILLE, Md. (DC News Now) — In the DMV, parents pay the most for child care out of any other area in the country. Now Maryland’s largest county is trying to do something about it. Local leaders in Montgomery county are taking steps to ensure all families have access to childcare services. Community members and local leaders met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the county’s steps to make that happen.

“We have to start at the beginning and create a seamless pathway from pre-k to J, from pre-kindergarten to jobs,” Councilmember Craig Rice said. “There is no question that seeing that pathway is the way for us to correct so many of the ills that we find in our community.”

Local leaders explained that closing the access gap starts with implementing Bill 42-21 through the new Early Care and Education Coordinating Entity. It created the groundwork for the new organization to address systemic issues related to closing that access gap for families around the county.

Bill 42-21 builds upon the Montgomery County Early Care and Education Initiative (ECEI), which was spearheaded in 2019 by Councilmember and early childhood education advocate Nancy Navarro and County Executive Marc Elrich. The bill was introduced in partnership with MCPS and Montgomery College. Councilmember Navarro says focusing on underserved communities and communities of color is the next step.

“The majority of the young children that are coming through in terms of the demographic changes in this country are children of color. A lot of them are you know, mixed, ethnicity, race, etc.,” Councilmember Navarro explained. “And who are the children that are disproportionately affected by an academic achievement gap? Those same children.”

The organization will have $7 million over the next four years to expand access to quality early care with a focus on kids under five and underserved communities.

“We need to clear up the deserts and put in early childcare centers and educational programs in the parts of the county that have done like up county, east county,” Nora Morales, program director of Identity, Inc., explained.

Community members like Marea Enriquez agree. She told DC News Now through a translator that finding affordable childcare was a stressful and difficult process.

“It was very difficult to find somebody to take care of her [my] children because pretty much there’s no one in our in her [my] community that does that service,” Enriquez said. “The county needs to have low-cost childcare with responsible people who felt parents will feel comfortable leaving their kids with.”

During the council meeting that followed the meeting with community members, the council confirmed the county executive’s appointments to the early care and education coordinating entity board of directors, who will develop a working plan for the organization. This program will also be presented to the National Association of Counties next week to potentially serve as an example for other communities.