Each spring, the Board of Education crafts its operating budget for the following school year, which is then submitted to the County Council for approval in May. Here’s our testimony for the 2015-2016 operating budget, which One Montgomery’s Dan Reed delivered to the Board of Education last month:
Good evening. My name is Dan Reed and I live in Silver Spring. I’m a 2005 graduate of James Hubert Blake High School and my brother is a current student at Paint Branch High School. I’m here on behalf of One Montgomery, a new organization of parents, community members, and educators coming together to better understand, support and improve Montgomery County
We are deeply concerned about the growing inequality of our school system, which is turning MCPS into a system of haves- and have-nots. While I’m a proud product of MCPS, I’ve seen both firsthand and through the experiences of my brother that not all students in this school system are receiving what they need to excel, particularly minority, immigrant, or low-income students. A strong, equitable school system is the foundation of Montgomery County’s success, and school quality, whether real or perceived, effects everything from student performance to property values and the strength of our county’s economy.
As a new, volunteer organization, we don’t have the resources to give this budget the careful review and inspection it deserves. But we have outlined a set of six principles for closing the achievement gap that we urge you to consider as you develop the budget. For us, the issue is less about increasing the budget than it is ensuring that MCPS has the correct priorities and delivers the resources to where the needs are greatest, not simply to the people with the loudest voices.
These principles are:
EQUITY. Allocate resources according to educational load to ensure that each child receives instruction and supports according to her needs in order to receive a world-class education.
LEADERSHIP. Competent and effective leadership at all levels, with commitment to accountability, transparency and results.
ACCESS. Ensure that all students are able to access the excellent opportunities MCPS has to offer, according to ability and desire, and are actively recruited and encouraged to achieve.
DIVERSITY. Promote hiring practices so that professional staffing reflects student population.
COMMUNITY. Stimulate (support) use of school facilities as a center of community activities.
PARTNERSHIP. Actively seek to establish and maintain partnerships with businesses and non-profits for the benefit of students.
We urge you to consider these principles as you craft the budget. For many families, including my own, Montgomery County Public Schools have long offered the promise of a better future for our kids and for our county. It’s time that we ensure that this promise is delivered to everyone in Montgomery County. Thank you for your time.
Montgomery County Public Schools prides itself on a commitment to “social justice,” working to ensure that disadvantaged students in the school system have the resources they need. But a new report and mapping tool from the Fordham Institute reveals that MCPS spends less on low-income students than other DC-area school systems.
MCPS spends an average of $13,613 per student at its high-poverty schools (defined as schools where more than 75% of students are on free or reduced lunch) compared to $13,821 in Fairfax County, $14,497 in DC, and $18,216 in Arlington. When low-poverty schools are compared to high-poverty schools, MCPS spends an average of 32% more per student at its high-poverty schools, compared to 34% in Fairfax and 81% in Arlington.
Researcher (and MCPS parent) Michael Petrilli says these figures speak volumes about the school system’s priorities. “These findings are more than a little embarrassing for Montgomery County, which prides itself on its commitment to “social justice,” and has an explicit policy of sending extra resources to its highest poverty schools. Yet it is bested by Fairfax County (by a little) and Arlington (by a lot),” he writes. “If Superintendent Josh Starr is an “equity warrior,” what does that make the folks across the river?”
Most of the county’s high-poverty students are concentrated at schools in East County. That’s one of the major contributors of school system’s persistent achievement gap between low- and high-income students, as schools tasked with educating students with the greatest needs don’t always have the resources they need. School spending isn’t a direct indicator of a student’s performance, but it determines everything from teacher compensation to the quality and availability of educational materials in the classroom. And if our schools aren’t getting the resources they need, they can’t prepare our students for success later in life.
Getting our students ready for the workforce is the theme of a summit Councilmember Nancy Navarro’s organizing tomorrow in White Oak called Ready for Tomorrow, with speakers including Dr. Starr and Casey Anderson, chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. The event runs from 9 am to 2 pm at the White Oak Community Recreation Center, located at 1710 April Lane. To sign up or for more information, visit the event’s website.
The strength of our communities and our economy depends on having well-educated students. MCPS talks the talk, but can they walk the walk? That’s one question we hope to get the answer to tomorrow.
Last week, the Office of Legislative Oversight issued a report that Montgomery County Public Schools are increasingly becoming a system of haves and have-nots. In response, the Washington Post editorial board called on school officials and superintendent Joshua Starr to get serious about the achievement gap and make programs for disadvantaged students a priority:
The entrenchment of a two-tier system of have and have-not schools is troubling. Without a doubt, some demographic forces are beyond the control of school officials, and some demographic changes occurred faster than expected. And the achievement gap is neither new nor unique to Montgomery. But given the promising progress made in previous years in attacking the gap, particularly under the sustained focus of former superintendent Jerry Weast, the stagnation now is alarming.
Joshua P. Starr, who took over as superintendent from Mr. Weast in 2011, seems to have directed his efforts elsewhere — deemphasizing standardized tests, for example, and urging more “hopefulness” and innovation in education. He acknowledged to us that the system’s efforts in attacking the achievement gap have been akin to “treading water” in recent years, but he said that is not for lack of commitment or interest…
We hope Mr. Starr will recommit the system to this cause.
You can read the rest of the editorial here.
However, it’s still $15 million less than the school system asked for. In a letter to Leggett, Superintendent Joshua Starr and school board president Phil Kauffman say the difference between their request and his proposal would affect programs for high-needs students:
“Those funds were specifically targeted to benefit our most vulnerable students by, among other things, reducing class sizes in high-need high schools, improving services to English Language Learners, adding prekindergarten classes, expanding community partnerships that serve students and families, and hiring more counselors and student support staff.”
Over half of the school system’s low-income students are in the Northeast and Downcounty consortia and in a handful of Upcounty clusters, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, and Watkins Mill. These schools aren’t performing as well as those in more affluent parts of the county, because their students come with greater needs.
Closing the achievement gap between these schools and the rest of MCPS is integral to our school system’s and our county’s continued success. That means making programs to serve high-needs students a priority no matter what.
Some of the programs Dr. Starr has recommended to serve these schools sound promising. But MCPS already makes up nearly half of the county’s total budget, and our highest-need students shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip to raise the school system’s budget.