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Council Making Strides on Pre-K

On November 1, 2018, I had the opportunity to join Superintendent Jack Smith, his early education team, and members of the Board of Education for the grand opening of the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center. You can read the news coverage highlighting that event here.

Grand Opening of Regional Pre K Facility

This is the first “regional pre-k facility” implemented by MCPS. It is a big step forward in the ongoing efforts by MCPS and the County Council to fund pre-k for low-income 4 year olds. There are about 100 slots for eligible children at the Center. There are also about 175 children enrolled in a pre-k program run by the Arc of Montgomery County at that same location, with about 1/3 of those children having special needs.

Three years ago, I co-authored legislation with Councilmember Nancy Navarro requiring the County to pass a Childcare Strategic Plan and create a Child Care Policy Officer. I did not get everything I wanted in that bill, such as creating an Office of Child Care independent from our County’s HHS, but the compromise bill that I passed with the support of Councilmember Navarro was a clear a step forward. The County then proceeded to hire a Child Care Policy Officer and to draft the Child Care Strategic Plan, which engaged the educator, parent, and provider community.

One of the recommendations from the plan was to focus on expanding part-day Head Start and pre-k programs to full day, and then to expand programs for low-income children in pre-k. For me, that recommendation was a light-bulb as it provided a real path forward to expand pre-k programs. Up to that point, all of the talk about universal pre-k seemed to go nowhere as a result of an overwhelming price tag. As opposed to needing $100 million or more to create “universal” pre-k, we identified that we could provide a classroom seat for all low income four year olds in the County for about $35 million. In this case low-income is defined as up to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (which is, for example, about $78,000 in annual income for a family of 3).

Based on the plan, two years ago I recommended to my colleagues on the Council that we add $5 million in the 2017 (FY18) budget to move towards the goal. Because many councilmembers care about this issue, we were successful in securing $2.5 million to fund full day Head Start and pre-k through MCPS, and to add $2.5 million to child care subsidies. As a result we created hundreds of slots for low income children.

Following on that success, with early education clearly identified as a priority for the MCPS Board of Education and our visionary superintendent Jack Smith, this year, in my Council President’s budget (FY19), MCPS requested $2.5 million in additional resources for pre-k expansions. The Council did a little better, funding not only that request but an additional $800,000 for more children to be eligible, thanks in particular to support from the Council’s Education Committee chairman Craig Rice.

As a result of these steps, there are now 700 more children enrolled in full day Head Start and pre-k programs through MCPS than there were 2 years ago. We are more than $5 million towards the goal of covering low income children. Perhaps even more importantly, we have finally taken ownership of the issue and we are marshalling resources to address the need, step by step. This is what some call “universal incrementalism,” which means having a vision for a universal service but also identifying how to get there one step at a time and actually taking those steps rather than talking about it.

Child care subsidies are also expanding. This year I have highlighted the need for our subsidies to cover a sufficient cost of care such that low income families can actually afford to participate. That has been an issue because with our existing subsidy structure, many families would be required to pay as much as a third or even a half of their income for child care — even with a subsidy. That is not tenable for low income families and as a result they remain without high quality care.

The exciting news is that this year, the state legislature passed a law authored by Senator Nancy King (D39), significantly raising state child care subsidy payments into the County. We are eagerly awaiting news about how those funds will become available.

These are crucial investments because, unfortunately, only about half of all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and only about 25% of low-income children are ready to learn. The achievement gap opens up at the youngest age. In fact, as Jack Smith explained to me when we talked at this event, there is a physical process or impact on a young child’s brain from exposure to language. Neural pathways are created by the brain as words are heard and repeated. Not unlike a network of roads through the brain paved by words. Children that are not sufficiently exposed to words and language at a young age, which is a problem from child care that is not up to standards, will not have that physical conditioning and that is one reason they enter kindergarten behind. Quality pre-k programs can help them catch up.

Located at 10611 Tenbrook Dr., Silver Spring, MD and fully enrolled, it is our hope that the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center will serve as a model for future childhood centers. This landmark achievement is a testament to the Council’s commitment that every child should start kindergarten ready to learn and prepared for a bright future in our public educational system.

For a recent and thorough review of this issue, please read our Council Staff Report.

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The Council Connection — funding for MCPS

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

After several months and many worksessions, the Council will make final decisions on the County budget this week and next. The County’s budget totals over $5 billion, supporting critical services from police, fire and rescue, transportation, housing to libraries, parks, and recreation.

This week I would like to take you inside the priority that constitutes almost half of the entire County budget, Montgomery County Public Schools.

The Board of Education requested, the County Executive recommended, and the County Council is poised to approve an FY19 Operating Budget for Montgomery County Public Schools of $2.6 billion, an increase of $73 million or 3% over FY18. Much of the increase is due to continued enrollment growth. MCPS projects an increase of over 1,700 students in FY19. This is 100% of the funding requested by the Board of Education.

The FY19 MCPS budget request maintains or enhances several important programs, including:

  • maintaining the class-size reductions approved by the Council in FY17;
  • expanding two-way immersion dual language programs to three additional elementary schools;
  • increasing counselor and psychologist positions to address the physical, psychological, and social well-being of students;
  • adding new career pathway programs for high-school students;
  • expanding needed pre-kindergarten programs and services.
  • and maintaining funding approved by the Council last year to expand Head Start programs from half-day to full-day, shown by the research as a key component in maximizing the impact of early childhood education.

With respect to funding allocation, the local contribution of tax dollars would fund 66% of MCPS’ request, with the state providing most of the remainder. Montgomery County continues to rank near the top of all Maryland jurisdictions in total per pupil funding and the proportion of local funding provided.

The next few weeks we will take a deeper look into the rest of the budget. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

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…dig even deeper into the MCPS budget?

If we have only whetted your appetite for more information on the MCPS budget, below you will find even more resources.

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Council Vice President Riemer, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith to Speak at Landmark STEM Education Launch

“Invent the Future Challenge” kick-off at KID Museum in Bethesda on Thursday, November 30 at 11:30 a.m.,represents major investment in student-driven innovation

ROCKVILLE, Md., November 27, 2017—Council Vice President Hans Riemer and Dr. Jack Smith, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), will be among the featured speakers at the kick-off event for the “Invent the Future Challenge” on Thursday, November 30 at 11:30 a.m. at KID Museum in Bethesda. This new public-private partnership brings together the County, MCPS, and KID Museum to make a long-term investment in student engagement with the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. It will bring hands-on STEM learning opportunities to children at every middle school in the MCPS system.

Cara Lesser, Founder and CEO of KID Museum, and Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, are also featured speakers at the launch. KID Museum is located at 6400 Democracy Boulevard, Bethesda, Md. 20817. Elected officials, members of the press, and education leaders are invited to attend.

The “Invent the Future Challenge” is a competition which will engage middle school students in the STEM fields and 21st century technology and professional skills, with special emphasis on the areas of design/engineering and electronics/coding. Teams of middle schoolers led by adult coordinators will compete for prizes using Challenge Starter Kits which include the Arduino electronics platform. The partnership provides scholarships for intensive, skill-building pre-competition workshops for low-income students at KID Museum.

“I’m excited to be part of launching this new partnership between MCPS and KID Museum to bring high-quality, data-driven, maker-based STEM learning programs to Montgomery County students,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “Last February I held a Countywide STEM Summit to help build these kinds of connections, and it is a win-win for us to support a great local organization and bring sorely needed new resources to our middle school students. For several years I have worked hard to increase County investments in new approaches to STEM and maker learning. It is thrilling to see MCPS embracing KID Museum and bring STEM education to middle school students throughout the County.”

Council Vice President Riemer has been a strong advocate for increasing resources for STEM education in the County. He moved to establish a Coding Fund and Maker Fund in the County budget, which provide small grants to community organizations. He has prioritized sponsoring the annual Maker Faire KIDfest and providing grants to nonprofits like KID Museum and others, and hosted the County’s first STEM Summit in early 2017.

Free parking is available on-site. For information about transit to the event, visit http://kid-museum.org/location/.

For questions or further information, contact Jason Fasteau in the Office of Council Vice President Riemer at 240-777-7964 or
Jason.Fasteau@montgomerycountymd.gov, or emma@kid-museum.org. Information about the event is also available at www.kid-museum.org/invent-the-future.

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Remarks on the FY18 Budget

It’s no secret that I think that the cost and availability of quality PreK and child care is one of the most pressing issues Montgomery County families face. This Council’s attention to this issue has yielded an Early Care and Education Strategic Plan and an OLO report that light the way forward. It seems clear to me from these reports that the first concrete step we can take is to make full day PreK available to all four year olds from families living below 300% of the federal poverty line. These students are overwhelmingly not receiving PreK now, and are starting kindergarten already behind their peers. We then spend many millions more to try to help them catch up.

OLO estimates that this PreK expansion might cost $35 million. I had suggested that we try to find $5 million in this budget to begin this investment. While we learned that it was not possible to get that full amount up and running for this next school year due to space, staffing, and procurement constraints we were able to invest $2.5 million – which will provide 240 new full day pre-k slots this school year for our most vulnerable children. We also expanded our child care subsidy program by $2 million.

For next year’s budget I suggest we try to provide $10 million to continue this PreK expansion. I’d like to work with my colleagues, MCPS, HHS, the County Executive, and other stakeholders to make this happen. Combined with the $2.5 million expansion in this year’s budget, that would get us much closer to the $35 million goal.

I am hoping that Councilmember Rice will be able to bring us a major new investment from the state. I also recognize that, for a broader expansion to be sustainable we need a dedicated revenue source as Councilmember Navarro has been advocating and we should seek private investment as well. I know Councilmember Hucker has been working on this as well. But in the meantime, I am no longer willing to wait – this is a step we can take within our existing system while we pursue these other options.