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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 — zoning changes to incentivize large employers + budget hearings

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

Introduced to the Council this week, at the request of the County Executive, will be a zoning change that addresses the potential for Montgomery County to host a major corporate headquarters (for example, Amazon HQ2). The proposal does not add density to existing master plans, but does provide for streamlining to reflect the unique needs of a project at that scale. Read more about it here.

This week the Council will hear in-person testimony from residents about priorities for the County’s FY19 operating budget at 5 public hearings. There are waiting lists for the hearings; nevertheless, if you haven’t yet signed up to and want to, use the Council’s website to choose a time slot. The Council will accommodate as many voices as possible.

At Tuesday’s Council session, Councilmembers will have an important discussion about access to pre-k and early education in the County, reviewing studies and hearing from experts. Research demonstrates that quality care in the early years pays of with better educational and social outcomes and more efficient use of school resources. Last year the Council funded a significant expansion of Head Start as well as more child care subsidies; this year the Council will consider new and different approaches.

Also at Tuesday’s Council Session, a zoning text amendment will be introduced that supports breweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries locating in agricultural areas by creating a new “Farm Alcohol Production” use.

The Council will conduct a number of public hearings on environmental, pre-k and broadband legislation.

Council Committees start their work on the FY19 Operating with the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) reviewing Park and Planning’s budget request.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

How do I…

…watch a Council committee session online.

Often, big issues are “worked out” at committee before coming to the full Council. If you want to see how that happens, you can watch committee sessions live or on demand. Simply navigate to the Council Meeting Portal. You can view live committee sessions, browse the archives, and search by keyword.

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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.

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Expanding pre-K for low income children in Montgomery County

Here are Hans Riemer’s prepared remarks from the release of the Office of Legislative Oversight’s Report Pre K in Montgomery County and Other Jurisdictions:

Our recent joint HHS/ED committee meeting on prekindergarten, where we discussed our new OLO report, was incredibly informative. From that conversation and others, it seems to me that we now have key people across County government – my fellow Councilmembers, Superintendent Smith, our early childhood leaders at HHS – that are committed to champion an expansion of quality pre-k.

While middle class families struggle to pay for quality early care and education, their children generally do receive it. The story for low income families is different. According to research in our new strategic plan, seven out of ten of our children who qualify for free and reduced meals are not ready for kindergarten. This is because the average cost of one year of quality pre-k in Montgomery County is $13,595. That’s an access issue to our families who just don’t have the resources. The inability of these families to provide quality pre-k for their children is why the research shows such a positive impact of early education investments for low income students.

During our committee conversation, I requested OLO to provide information about how we could expand pre-k programs in an incremental or staged manner. My staff has been researching this topic and, with the benefit of OLO’s response, I believe a path forward is clear: expand existing Head Start and pre-k programs from a half day to a full day. This is the best first step the County Council can take to provide early education for our most disadvantaged children.

Currently we provide half day pre-k to over 2,800 children. There are proven benefits to full-day pre-k for 4 year olds. Taking these programs to full-day is an important step. It could be implemented through a combination of approaches: if the school has room to expand the program, then it will be school based; if the school-based program does not have room to expand, then we can contract with private providers.

There is widespread academic research to support investing in enhanced early education for 4 year olds. The reasoning is simple on its face: children who begin learning one year earlier receive an additional year of education. Without quality early education, many of the lowest income children will enter kindergarten far behind their peers; they will struggle ever to catch up and many will not catch up. Pre-k for low-income 4 year olds helps put these children on a more even footing, which pays enormous dividends over time. The OLO research documents the incredible impact that pre-k can have and how it allows a school system to use its funds more efficiently later by reducing remedial or intervention expenses for these children during their subsequent years of education.

An investment of $20 million would enable us to provide full-day pre-k to ALL children eligible for free and reduced meals. This is achievable by, for example, investing $5 million per year over four years. The payback for our educational goals would be enormous. An investment plan of this nature would not require additional revenue sources or breaking the charter limit.

I urge my colleagues to consider the importance of pre-k for low income families as we begin to formulate our goals for this year’s County budget.