Schools are the lifeblood of Montgomery County and define who we are. When you have better schools, everything is better — better jobs, safer neighborhoods and a better quality of life. Unfortunately, our public schools are slipping: the classrooms are more crowded than ever and the minority achievement gap is widening.
Ensuring that every child has an opportunity to receive a world-class education is, and always has been, my top priority. A quality education system is what sets Montgomery County apart; it’s why so many people call our community home — and it’s why so many businesses choose to locate here.
We need a leader who will work together with our school leaders to ensure that all of our students are receiving a world-class education. We need a leader who can make sure we are getting our fair share from Annapolis, something we did successfully when I was County Executive.
When elected, education will be this County’s top priority once again — and open up the doors of opportunity for every child in Montgomery County.
Any other alternative is unacceptable.
Our firm commitment to educational excellence has helped to define who we are as a community. I’m running for County Executive because I believe Montgomery County’s best days are ahead of us, but only if we invest the time, energy and resources today to make our schools the best in the nation.
The Minority Achievement Gap, which compares the performance differences between white, Asian and higher income students to black, Hispanic, and lower income students in Montgomery County schools is now widening. This widening gap is unacceptable, especially in a majority-minority County, where the majority of first grade students are Hispanic. If we do not begin to close the achievement gap, the ripple effects will be disastrous and begin to unearth the roots that make our diverse County so strong. When I was County Executive, we were closing the achievement gap. I will do it again by working together with our school leaders and other county departments by ensuring they have the funding necessary to accomplish their plan to narrow and close the gap. Just as importantly, we will ensure that the money is being spent to successfully narrow this gap.
After years of progress, we’re seeing signs that our school system is starting to head in the wrong direction. As the Washington Post recently reported, Montgomery County public schools “are increasingly divided by income, race and ethnicity, with African American, Latino and low-income students more isolated than they were three years ago.”
While I do believe current County leadership has shown earnest efforts to tackle this problem, the Post article states “efforts to close the gap … have not worked, with widening disparities on many measures of student success, according to a county report.”
It is time for new, effective leadership who can successfully tackle this issue head on. Instead of fighting amongst each other, which is currently the case, we must work together for form a united front and solve our problems.
We must act now to reverse the widening achievement gap by providing new approaches to replace the ones that are failing us. Superintendent Starr and the Board of Education must put a measurable plan in place to attack this dire challenge. And it’s the duty of our elected officials to join together and come up with the resources necessary to execute the plan, while also holding our school leaders accountable for positive results.
When previously County Executive, even at a time when we became a majority-minority school district, we were closing the achievement gap. Working together with then Superintendent Jerry Weast and other school leaders, we did this by both ensuring the necessary funding was available and just as importantly that the money was being spent to successfully conquer this issue.
However there are many other factors that go into why the achievement gap is widening including family, cultural and other societal issues. That is why, at the same time of ensuring we are doing things inside the classroom to solve this problem, we must be doing things in homes and communities as well.
For me this starts with creating quality jobs for our residents, especially those who currently work extra long hours or multiple jobs to provide for their family and are not able to spend time with their children. By coordinating efforts with Montgomery College, The Universities at Shady Grove, The Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity and the Department of Economic Development, Montgomery County can become a national leader in providing our residents with the educational opportunities necessary to succeed in today’s economy. We need to get people back to work and provide them with affordable opportunities to learn the skills necessary for this economy. We must realize to the fullest potential the incredible assets we have in our County and utilize them. We must help create jobs to empower all our residents, no matter how impoverished, providing opportunity and mobility to move up the ladder of socioeconomic progress, which benefits the entire County.
More jobs mean a larger tax base from which to draw for the restoration and expansion of our services, whether it’s public transit services, library hours, language programs, or special needs funding. Creating more jobs will enable us to have the resources necessary to improve the quality of life all of our residents expect and deserve. This includes increased affordable housing, reducing record high poverty and strengthening and safeguarding our communities.
We have done this before and we will do this again.
Talking to parents all around the County there is a growing level of frustration that their kids are learning in more crowded classrooms, because there is not enough space in schools to accommodate all the students. This is a direct result of not getting our fair share of school construction dollars from Annapolis as well as not growing our economy to have more funds to build our schools.
Montgomery County needs a leader who will stand up and put our children’s education first to ensure all our students get the best education possible and the opportunity to succeed. Our school population has been growing at unprecedented rates for years now, and we are not prepared for it.
We need a leader who can successfully fight for our schools in Annapolis. We need a leader with the foresight to plan our school construction budget so we do not borrow more than we should. We need a leader who makes their presence felt in Annapolis to ensure we are getting our fair share from the state budget and holding the Governor accountable if we do not. We need a County Executive who unites our delegation, the largest in the State, to ensure that we are getting the money needed to improve our schools and narrow the achievement gap. I have done it before and I will do it again.
When previously in office, we placed all-day kindergarten throughout the county. As Valerie Ervin and Nancy Navarro wrote in a Washington Post op-ed back in March of 2007, “The time is now to complete the journey that we as a community started eight years ago. We must provide every child with a strong start — and a strong finish. Universal pre-kindergarten education is a proven strategy for offsetting the challenges of poverty, language, disability and mobility.”
Despite this being written more than 7 years ago, it could not be more prescient for the issues facing us today. All Democratic Gubernatorial candidates have stated their intentions to expand pre-k education across the entire state of Maryland, an issue I wholeheartedly support. I will work with whomever the next governor is to make this hope a reality. In addition, we also need a strong leader to ensure that when the State tries to push these costs off to the Counties, we stand united and fight to make sure the State remains committed to its fair share of investment in early childhood education.
Research shows the tremendous benefits of a pre-kindergarten education. It will be instrumental in helping narrow the achievement gap. In order to successfully tackle the challenges facing our school system today, we must implement such programs. That is exactly what I will do as your next County Executive.
Maintenance of Effort:
The Maintenance of Effort Law helps ensure education funding across the state because it requires local governments to provide public schools a constant level of per-pupil funding over time as a condition of increasing state aid. However the amendment to it a few years back created a strong disincentive to spend more than the minimum required by the state law. The state should be providing incentives to go above the minimum required to fund our schools. I will work with our delegation and with our new governor and find ways to change the law so we are not penalized for spending more on education. With the challenges that we have, especially the widening achievement gap, we will need to invest more in education to tackle these challenges and that is why I pledge to help change the Maintenance of Effort law.