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Head Start and Pre Kindergarten Expansion

I would like to thank my colleagues on the joint ED/HHS committee as well as our partners at Montgomery County Public Schools for supporting my focus on expanding existing half-day Head Start and pre-k programs to full-day for our lowest income children. The committees requested Council staff to identify how investments could be most efficiently targeted in the budget for next year, information that will be very valuable as we conduct our budget review over the next 6-8 weeks. I am hopeful that we can get to the $5 million expansion goal that I have proposed, but we will have to make some tough choices to create resources at that level.


To: George Leventhal, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee
Craig Rice, Chair, Education Committee & Member, Health and Human Services Committee
Nancy Navarro, Member, Education Committee
Marc Elrich, Member, Education Committee
Council President Roger Berliner, Member, Health and Human Services Committee
From: Council Vice President Hans Riemer
Date: March 13, 2017
Re: Head Start and Pre Kindergarten Expansion

When this Council passed Bill 13-15 eighteen months ago, we began to build the capacity to plan and implement a major expansion of programs to ensure access to quality, affordable early care and education for every child. Since that bill’s passage, the County has funded and hired a new Child Care Policy Officer in the Department of Health and Human Services and completed a Child Care Strategic Plan. The HHS and ED Committees recently held an exceptionally informative work session to hear from New York City about how they achieved their pre-k expansion, and the Committees instructed the HHS Department to determine how we could undertake a similar “universal” expansion.

With the receipt of OLO Report 2017-7, “Pre-K in Montgomery County and in Other Jurisdictions,” we have several approaches to consider as well as a crucial piece of the puzzle – clear evidence that the benefits of government-funded pre-k, at least for low income students, far outweigh the costs.

I am thrilled that the OLO report includes a series of discrete increments in which we could stage an expansion, with digestible cost estimates. I understand that Council staff intends to work with stakeholders to further define the costs and requirements of the incremental steps laid out in the OLO report.

I seek your support to direct Council staff to identify how we could best invest $5 million in FY18 to provide full-day pre-k for our lowest income children.

Over the past few weeks, my staff and I have conducted our own research and held meetings with staff from HHS, MCPS, and other stakeholders. My office has identified specific high poverty schools and the scope of their existing programs. Some of these schools already offer full-day pre-k, others offer half-day pre-k programs. Combined with the existing full-day slots, I believe $5 million would allow us to offer full day prekindergarten classes to ALL children who qualify for Head Start at all elementary schools, and begin to expand MCPS half-day pre-K to full day at the schools with the greatest concentration of children in poverty. This expansion could be accommodated on site at many schools, but would require some classes be provided through community partners or at other spaces such as Recreation facilities.

The following schools have programs that could readily be expanded.
Expand half-day Head Start to full day for about 250 kids in:
Bells Mill ES
Clearspring ES
College Gardens ES
Drew ES
East Silver Spring ES
Fairland ES
Glenallen ES
Maryvale ES
Montgomery Knolls ES
Christa McAuliffe ES
Strawberry Knoll ES
Twinbrook ES
Viers Mill ES
* Students from families living below 100% of the federal poverty line are eligible for Head Start

Expand half day pre-K to full day at highest FARMS schools for about 185 kids in:
Broad Acres ES
New Hampshire Estates ES
Harmony Hills ES
South Lake ES
* Students from families living below 200% of the federal poverty line are eligible for Pre-K

There are about 435 children in half day Head Start and pre-k programs in these schools. Our estimate is that creating full day Head Start and pre-k for all schools listed above would cost about $5 million, and we believe it can be done in FY18. Nevertheless, a more precise roadmap is required.

Both the OLO report and the HHS’s Department’s Early Care and Education Strategic Plan identify expanding existing half-day pre-K programs to full day as a top priority. The Early Care and Education Strategic Plan states:

S4. Work toward a guarantee of quality, affordable, full-day prekindergarten for all three and four-year old children in a mixed delivery system (e.g. services provided by both public schools and community-based programs).

Research shows that for low-income children, two-years of high-quality preschool improves children’s early literacy and math readiness for school compared to one year of prekindergarten. The number of hours in school, also known as dosage, is also an opportunity to close the readiness gap and meet the needs of working families. The new Head Start Program Performance Standards increase the number of hours a year Head Start programs must provide services. Early Head Start programs already operate for a full day.

Next Steps: In FY2018 and succeeding years, expand targeted assistance for low-income three and four-year-old children to have full-day prekindergarten in a mixed delivery system and increase the local contribution for full-day Head Start.

I look forward to working with you on this important County Council priority.

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Improving the quality of County playing fields

Cabin John Park Ball Field

Playing Fields!

As a parent of two kids and as a guy who spent a lot of his youth playing sports, I know that quality playing fields make a big difference.

Over the past eighteen months, with the strong support of Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson and his great team as well as my colleagues on the County Council, I have been working with MCPS and the Department of Parks to put a greater emphasis on the renovation and maintenance of playing fields, whether they are located on MCPS property or MNCPPC property.

I am happy to share that the Department of Parks has launched a program to determine the condition and maintenance needs of every Park and public school athletic field in the County. Every single one! The initial assessment of all the fields was completed over the summer. The ballfields were assessed using criteria that included quality of grass, grass coverage, soil compaction, infield mix, infield grading, and drainage.

Our Council Committee received an update about the assessment, which you can read here.

During the 2016 capital budget review, I worked with the Education committee to allocate $750,000 over two years from permit fee funds managed by the Interagency Coordinating Board (ICB) for the Department of Parks to renovate ten school sites (with more than 15 fields) in Winter 2017 and five additional school sites in summer/fall 2017. The list of the first 10 school sites will be finalized soon.

Falls Road Soccer Field

I also worked as a member of the Planning Housing and Economic Development committee to increase the Parks budget for local field park ballfield renovation by 10%, which I certainly think is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

This grass field renovation will start building the supply of quality athletic fields across the County. Parks will use this opportunity to renovate not only the grass (or dirt infield), but improve the quality of the soil beneath when needed, regrade the field for drainage and review whether an irrigation system is realistic. Parks will also be investing in goal posts, nets, backstops and fencing that go along with the athletic fields.

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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