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Putting progressive values in action with new county budget

I am pleased to share highlights from the county’s new budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (video), which will begin July 1st.

This year was a “same services” budget, with lower revenues due to a regional economic slowdown. The Council’s total budget of $5.07 billion increases spending by a modest 1.7% over last year’s budget.

There were, however, many bright spots. Some of the best news:

Education: The Council was able to supplement the Executive’s recommended education funding by adding $2 million for technology investments in MCPS and $7.9 million to reduce tuition increases at Montgomery College. Overall, MCPS received $31.9 million over last year’s budget, to support higher enrollment. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan has withheld $17 million in budgeted state education funding for MCPS, so MCPS still faces difficult choices this year.

Clean elections: The Council added $1 million as a down payment on the small donor matching system we established in law last year. Candidates for Council and Executive who refuse large contributions will be eligible for small donor matches for the first time in the 2018 election; we are projected to need $8 million in public matching funds for that election.

I am especially pleased and humbled that the final budget included funds for a number of my initiatives:

Child Care: The Council added funds to implement the recently passed Bill 13-15, including provisions I authoredcreate a new Child Care and Early Education Officer and to develop a Child Care Strategic Plan. We also added over $500,000 for additional child care subsidies for low income families.

Transportation: The Council added funding I championed to improve pedestrian and bike infrastructure (BiPPA’s), add five new RideOn buses to expand service, and improve sidewalk snow removal.

Fighting poverty: The budget increases our Earned Income Tax Credit, as required by Bill 8-13, which I introduced to restore the EITC after it was cut during the Great Recession. Montgomery County is the only County in the nation to offer an EITC match, which has been widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-poverty tools.

Other initiatives I championed, within a responsible budget framework:

I hope these initiatives give you a clearer sense of my work to meet our ever changing community needs.

On the question of taxes, county taxes as a share of personal income are virtually unchanged from last year. In order to keep property tax collections under the charter limit, property tax rates will be slightly reduced. As a result, for the two-thirds of property owners who do not have a revision in their assessed value this year, property tax bills will decline slightly. The average tax burden in real terms will be lower this year than in 6 of the last 9 years, and it is considerably lower than it was in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Finally, as you may have heard, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the county on an issue relating to our income tax collections. The issue, which affects those who earn income outside of Maryland, will reduce county revenue by more than $50 million next year. Significant budget challenges are ahead of us.

As always, I welcome hearing from you.

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A bright future for EVERY student

When young people organize for change, anything is possible. I know this having served as Barack Obama’s National Youth Vote Director as well as political director of Rock the Vote.

So when the MCPS students of the Minority Scholars Program invited me to join them for the March to Close the Achievement Gap, I attended — and I was inspired by their advocacy.

Our students are right. While MCPS is a superb school system by many measures, we know that there are disparities in educational outcomes according to race and income. A review of dropout rates, AP exams, SAT scores and other measures provides ample evidence that we are not achieving our goal of helping every child succeed.

A new County Council research report on high schools shows a large and growing achievement gap between schools in areas with significant poverty and schools in low-poverty areas.

We can do better. Montgomery County is blessed with experienced school leadership, great teachers, significant resources and a diverse population that values education. The county also invests hundreds of millions of dollars in health and human service initiatives that help children and families outside the classroom. When all of us get together – elected officials, parents, MCPS leadership and stakeholders throughout our county – we can figure out how to make this work.

What steps do we need to take? Here are some of my recommendations:

1. Fund new initiatives in MCPS that are intended to close the achievement gap, including more ESOL programs, incentives for teachers to stay in more challenged schools, smaller class sizes for challenged high schools, and more. These programs are in the MCPS budget that is pending before the County Council now and I support them.

2. Reduce concentrations of poverty in our county by promoting economic development for all of our communities. Families need jobs to thrive and the lack of high paying jobs in the East County has real consequences in the classroom. Concentrated poverty in our neighborhoods is the greatest threat to academic achievement in our schools.

3. Strengthen early childhood programs, in partnership with MCPS, to prevent the achievement gap from starting. Parents need affordable child care and children need to start kindergarten ready to learn. Our county has a long way to go on these issues.

As a parent of two young kids, the older of whom just started MCPS kindergarten, my passion for meeting these challenges is only growing. I want to hear from you and work with you to make sure that our county continues to become a better place to live for everyone.


The March to Close the Achievement Gap. Photo Credit: Dan Reed

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Let’s build more classrooms

The County Council is now reviewing the capital budget for construction projects. Transit and roads, libraries, parks and much more are on the table.

My number one priority in our capital budget is school construction. Here’s why.

As both an MCPS Parent and a Montgomery County Councilmember, I see that enrollment growth and aging facilities in MCPS are causing us to fall behind. But we can fix this.

Between 2003 and 2013, MCPS enrollment grew by 12,000 students. According to the Board of Education, that’s the equivalent of 16 new elementary schools filled to capacity!

Our explosive growth is unique. We have added more new students than Anne Arundel, Charles, Frederick, and Howard counties combined. In fact, the rest of the state’s enrollment did not increase at all from 2003 to 2013.

By 2020, we expect to add another 11,000 students, on top of the 150,000 that we have today. Again, that will be the largest enrollment increase of any school district in Maryland.

The Montgomery County Government has responded by dramatically increasing construction funding for MCPS. The state, however, has not.

From Fiscal Year 2000 to 2014, Montgomery County’s local spending on school construction grew from $63 million to $210 million — while state spending fell from $50 million to $35 million.

The chart below shows just how small a share of our school construction money now comes from the state. And even though we have 17% of the state’s students, we only get about 11% of the state’s construction funds.

We are all working hard to turn this around. For local dollars, the County Executive has recommended an increase of $129 million over the next six years for school construction, which I support. That will result in a record amount of local financing of school construction.

For state dollars, our Montgomery County state Senators and Delegates along with MCPS leadership, the PTAs, the County Executive, and the County Council are asking the state to support a special school construction financing package that will help us meet the surge in enrollment.

Bottom line: we need your voice to get this done.

So here’s what you can do. Send an email to the top state leaders and tell them WHY we need to build more classrooms in Montgomery County.

Governor Martin O’Malley – governor.mail@maryland.gov Lt. Governor Anthony Brown – lt.governor.mail@maryland.gov Senate President Mike Miller – Thomas.v.miller@senate.state.md.us House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch – Michael.busch@house.state.md.us

Thank you for reading and taking action. Let’s make this happen

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New technology coming to Montgomery County Public Schools

As an at-large Councilmember, I believe it is my responsibility to keep abreast on how we can best merge technology and innovation in all of areas of county wide policy. Recently, there was a lot of discussion surrounding the Montgomery County Public Schools supplemental spending request for Technology Modernization. In fact, I received plenty of outreach from many resident and parents who strongly supported the request and I want to thank you for writing to me. Your views helped to inform my decision and I was proud to vote “yes” for the ~ $2 million appropriation.
The program will procure Promethean Boards for our elementary public school classrooms. The initial purchase is expected to put up to 2,000 of these boards across our 130+ elementary schools.  Deployment will begin in weeks.  Right now, at the elementary level, 34 schools have no Promethean systems and 80 schools have fewer than 10 boards.  Promethean Boards will make learning more enjoyable for the students and more efficient for their teachers, and using digital media technology effectively is an essential skill in today’s economy.
The appropriation will also be used to install wireless internet networks in all schools, serving to help shift our schools to a more digital curriculum and content. Only 11 of the 25 high schools and 31 of the 132 elementary schools have wireless connectivity. Installing wireless universally will allow us to use different kinds of devices in a more agile manner.
As your council member, I am fully committed to sustaining Montgomery County’s educational excellence. 
Thank you for your support.