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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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Montgomery Council unanimously approves Bicycle Master Plan

Plan recommends 1,000 miles of trails, paths and lanes; upgrades to infrastructure; and analytics-based policy and construction

ROCKVILLE, Md., Nov. 28, 2018—The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the Bicycle Master Plan on Tuesday, November 27. The plan, which recommends a network of more than 1,000 miles of trails, paths and protected bike lanes, has the goals of making the County a world-class bicycling community; promoting access to a comfortable, safe and connected bicycle network; and making bicycling a viable transportation option that improves the County’s quality of life.

The plan also aims to facilitate the creation of supportive infrastructure for bicycling transit, including expanded bicycle parking at transit and commercial centers. It includes state-of-the-art analytical tools for designing safe, convenient bikeways throughout the County, and promotes the long-term implementation of bicycle-friendly policies and planning.

“When fully built out, the network envisioned by the plan will make biking a real option for cyclists of all ages and experiences in their trips for work, shopping, and recreation,” said Council President Hans Riemer. “Advance work on this network is already happening with protected bicycle lane networks in Silver Spring and White Flint and soon coming to Bethesda. In addition to completing these networks, we need to lower speeds on neighborhood greenway streets, address unsafe trail crossings across the County, and bring the State Highway Administration to the table to make improvements on State highways. The plan shows us the way to a world-class bicycling community. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and get it built.”

The Council and the Montgomery Planning Board brought together stakeholders including residents of every district in the County, bicycling and transit advocates and members of the business community to provide input and feedback as the plan was developed over several years. The plan aligns closely with Vision Zero, an initiative adopted by the Council in 2016 which aims to eliminate pedestrian and traffic fatalities and severe injuries on County roadways by 2030.

“This visionary and innovative plan recommends a network of protected bike lanes – lanes where people can bike and ride in a manner that is protected from cars – as well as low-stress routes throughout the County, in our urban centers as well as connecting major activity centers,” continued Council President Riemer. “As such, the plan supports the County’s mobility, environmental sustainability, and Vision Zero goals. It will have a long-lasting and deep impact on the County’s infrastructure as it will guide budget decisions in the decades to come.

“I’m especially grateful to Casey Anderson, the Montgomery Planning Board Chair; David Anspacher, planner and project manager for this plan; and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation for all the hard work they did in engaging with the community, assessing the possibilities and bringing together a viable plan. I’d also like to thank outgoing Councilmember Roger Berliner for supporting this and many other initiatives to make the County more bike friendly. The Council is really proud of this plan and what it means for our County’s future.”

You can learn more about the plan and view the digital map of the proposed network.

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The Council Connection — bike plan and farewell to 18th Council

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The 18th Council of Montgomery County will hold its final session on Tuesday. View the agenda. The 19th Council, elected this November, will convene next Tuesday, December 4th, after December 3rd’s swearing in.

To recognize outgoing Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal and County Executive-elect Marc Elrich, we will hold a special commemoration at the Council.

Council set to adopt world-class bike plan
The Council is expected to adopt the Bicycle Master Plan, a comprehensive proposal that aims to make the County a “world-class bicycling community.” The plan recommends a network of protected bike lanes — lanes where people can bike and ride in a manner that is protected from cars — as well as low-stress routes throughout the County, in our urban centers as well as connecting major activity centers.

The plan is critical because it will guide design and capital budget decisions and development plans going forward. When fully built out, the network envisioned by the plan will make biking a real option for cyclists of all ages and experiences in their trips for work, shopping, and recreation.

You can learn more about the plan and view the digital map of the proposed network.

Ensuring the safety of our faith communities
After the recent Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the Council will hold a public hearing and vote on a special appropriation to the County’s FY19 Operating Budget to assist our diverse religious congregations with meeting their security needs. The funding for security will be provided through a grants process that will be open to all faith communities. The full Council staff report can be viewed here.

Meeting the needs of residents with developmental differences
On November 26, the human services committee will meet to review the report of the County’s Work Group on Meeting the Needs of Residents with Developmental Differences. Last year, the Council adopted Resolution 18-989, which requested the formation of a work group to report on meeting the needs of residents with developmental differences (developmental disabilities). The work group is focused on the implementation of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) Transformation Plan, and has made several recommendations including:

  • The County Executive and Council must carefully monitor the ongoing rate setting study and advocate strongly for rates that reflect the cost of doing business in Montgomery County.
  • The focus on opportunity for employment is critical, but the County must advocate with DDA to ensure that new rules truly incentivize employment.
  • The County must continue to invest local funds to support providers, increase inclusion in County programs, and provide needed services to County residents with developmental disabilities who are either on a waitlist or not eligible for DDA services.

View the full Council staff report here.

Holiday Safety
The Council wants you to have a joyful and safe holiday. Here are some safety precautions from the County Fire and Rescue Service on how you can have a Fire Safe Home!

Subscribe to Legislative Alerts
The Council’s website has a subscription feature that provides individuals with email notifications as a bill moves through the legislative process, after introduction until it becomes County law. Take a look today and subscribe if a bill interests you!

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

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People Want and Need To Walk. Let’s Make It Safe.

The last several months have been very busy as the Council navigates complex issues surrounding pedestrian safety in our neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we have had an increase of pedestrian crashes. For example, on Georgia Avenue, there have been three pedestrians deaths and a major accident where a driver hit and injured four high school students who were waiting for their school bus to arrive. I recently wrote about these issues and what we can do to address our state highway challenges.

To bring the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) together to implement solutions, the Council recently wrote Governor Larry Hogan.

SHA administrator Greg Slater responded quickly and met with us. Together, we were able to outline several steps that we could take to address pedestrian collisions, including reducing speed limits, reducing the width of travel lanes to 10 feet and installing flashing beacons in dimly lit intersections. SHA also plans to improve the crosswalks at several intersections along Georgia Avenue, including the intersection with Heathfield Road and the intersection with May Street, which are both in Aspen Hill.

Government is taking overdue action in part because our residents are stepping up their advocacy. For example, a new coalition of civic associations, businesses and individuals called No More Dead Pedestrians has formed to advocate for continued implementation of Vision Zero principles, targeting state highways in Wheaton, Glenmont and Aspen Hill. Bethesda Bike Now is advocating for safe bike/ped infrastructure in Bethesda. The Coalition to Fix 198 is calling on SHA to fix much needed improvements in the Burtonsville area. The Dale Drive Safety Coalition is advocating for safe measures along a frequently used cut through road. And the Friends of Forest Glen and Montgomery Hills are advocating for a Georgia Ave makeover with an emphasis on bike, pedestrian safety and smart growth in the area. Some of the leaders from these groups are also involved with the County’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, Traffic Safety Advisory Committee.

With your help and with coordination with state and local governments, we will work together towards making walking safer for everyone.

#NoMoreDeadPeds

#FixGeorgiaAve

#VisionZero

#Fix198

#DaleDriveSafety

#FriendsofFGMH