Education: Connecting the Dots
Montgomery County is my home. It’s where I was born and where my wife and I are raising our family. Our County’s schools are at the heart of why I’m so grateful to have grown up here. But we can do better. This year, about 12,000 students will leave our County's public school system. It's estimated that roughly 3,000 of them won't meet University System of Maryland entrance requirements or be prepared with the skills, certifications, or licenses to get a good-paying job. It's a moral imperative that our school system prepares 100 percent of students for college or a career.
Here are eight ways as County Executive that I will work with students, teachers, parents, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Montgomery College, the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), and nonprofit partners to "Connect the Dots" for a better education system that truly serves all:
We need a County Executive to be an active, engaged, and collaborative leader in this mission. I will connect the dots between all of these organizations and institutions so everyone has access to the education they need to thrive.
Early Care and Education
Children start learning, interacting, and developing their brains at birth and studies show1 that infants who are introduced to books early on develop better vocabulary skills and are more prepared for school. Every child should have access to education at an early age to close the vocabulary gap, develop social interaction skills, and help with general learning. We should do more to help more families get access to the county’s resources and guide them on how to use the free programs available in our county.
Home Visitation Program
A program in Durham, North Carolina called Family Durham Connects provides three nurse home visits to new parents during the first 18 months of a newborn’s life.2 Nurses work with the parents to connect them with resources and discuss the importance of reading to brain development. As County Executive, I’ll create a home nursing program to provide free home visits to new parents to support their child’s development and bridge the socioeconomic divide that’s leading to the longstanding achievement and opportunity gap in our education system.
Books from Birth
We must make access to books as simple as possible and we don’t have to look far for models. Prince George’s County partners with a nonprofit to mail a free book to a child and their family every month until their fifth birthday.3 As County Executive, I’ll work with nonprofits and our County library system to start a Books from Birth program here in Montgomery County.
Full-day universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K)
I was a strong and vocal supporter of The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the plan for increasing education investment and closing the longstanding racial achievement and opportunity gaps in our education system.4
One of the key tenets of The Blueprint is to expand universal pre-K for four-year-olds. In Montgomery County, we have much more work to do.
Just 53 percent of Montgomery County Kindergartners were “ready to learn” in 2019-2020.5 We need leadership with vision and willing to dedicate more funding to pre-K expansion to make more progress toward universal pre-K faster.
As of 2017, we had about 11,000 four-year-olds, but only 4,860 available pre-K slots that were considered high-quality programs, including both half-day and full-day programs.6 As County Executive, I’ll implement universal pre-K by:
Supporting home daycares to acquire their credentials and licenses necessary to offer pre-K for their community.
Partnering with high-quality private and faith-based programs to expand access to as many kids as possible.
Increasing funding for education by developing more high-paying jobs, building a healthy economy, and boosting revenues we can commit to pre-K expansion.
Online Early Childhood Education Program
With COVID-19 forcing advancements in online education, young children from two-to four-years-old should also have access. As County Executive, I’ll work with early learning providers, education advocates, and technology firms to provide online resources to expose more children to learning at an earlier age.
College and Career Readiness
We must do more to support students get into college and stay in college. We must recognize that not all high school graduates will go to college and invest in career, entrepreneurship, and technology programs to ensure all high school graduates can earn a living wage.
Equitable Access to Advanced and Honors Courses
Through my work with the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence, we learned of the severe and unacceptable lack of opportunity for Black and brown students to take advanced courses compared to their white and Asian peers. This is the opportunity gap in action - preventing all students from the same opportunity at honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate courses that can earn them college credit and put them on the path to higher education.
In 2019, only five percent of Latino students and eight percent of Black students from low-income households in Montgomery County took Algebra I in seventh grade, compared to 39 percent of their peers.7 This was true even when these students had the same score at the end of sixth grade as their peers.
We must do better. There is growing evidence that when students from lower income backgrounds are given the same opportunities at honors and college credit courses, they perform just as well.8 As County Executive, I will work with the school system to:
Expand the number and types of advanced courses in all schools - particularly schools serving the most low-income students.
Automatically enroll students that meet transparent, objective criteria in advanced courses and provide multiple criteria and multiple opportunities for a student to enroll in a honors pathway.
Expand after school and summer school learning aligned with our college- and career-ready standards to help students with lesser opportunities catch up and be prepared for honors and advanced courses.
Career, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Courses
In 2020, I partnered with The Universities at Shady Grove to launch the Lab for Entrepreneurship and Transformational Leadership.9 It’s been incredible to watch these young people develop their ideas, build their business plans, and get access to other entrepreneurs and seed funding opportunities. There’s no reason we can’t offer the same entrepreneurship training in every MCPS high school. I will work with our Superintendent, Board of Education, principals, teachers, and students to accomplish this.
In 2017, MCPS commissioned a report evaluating the school system’s career-readiness programs that found our strong focus on preparing for four-year college was preventing us from “thinking more strategically and creatively about what can and should be included within the high school experience.”10 The report said MCPS didn’t have effective measures of career readiness for our students.
As County Executive, I will work with the school system to strengthen our College and Career Readiness standards in-line with best practices from around the country by:
Giving high school students after 10th grade the chance to earn an associate degree and finish high school ready to go to work with an industry-certified credential, or to start the last two years of college.
Investing in targeted interventions to all students not meeting College and Career Readinesss standards by 10th grade to ensure they are on track by 12th grade to avoid post-secondary remediation.
Relentlessly pursuing expansion of technology and career education and training throughout the County and in collaboration with companies that provide good-paying careers and are in-need of talented young lab technicians, apprentices, and more such as the life sciences and biohealth industry.
The college preparation process is notoriously time-consuming, stressful, and expensive for most students and families - meaning students from lower income backgrounds or who are the first generation in their family to pursue higher education are often left behind.11
Fortunately, Montgomery County already has great organizations working to bridge this gap, such as the nonprofit CollegeTracks. As County Executive, I’ll work with CollegeTracks12 and other organizations to expand their standardized test prep, application assistance, financial aid assistance programs and more to all MCPS high schools.
I’ll also advocate on the state level to require all students to complete their financial aid form (FAFSA) in order to graduate, joining California and other states.13 This requirement will help more students get access to financial assistance for higher education, removing one of the big hurdles many young people face if they want to jump back into higher education after initially joining the workforce.
MCPS supports students with disabilities from birth through age 21 to prepare for college, careers, and involvement in the community. MCPS provides a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to all students with disabilities in need of special education and related services, currently 12 percent of the school system’s total enrollment.
However, teachers are facing barriers to provide more support for these students. We must support more MCPS teachers get certified to work with students with special needs and to have access to training, equipment, and resources to help them be successful at supporting all our students’ needs.
Higher Education and Lifelong Learning
Montgomery College and The Universities at Shady Grove (USG) are tremendous higher education resources that as County Executive I’ll support expanding to reach more students at all stages of life.
East County Montgomery College Campus
Many students in the East County communities of White Oak, Briggs Chaney, Fairland, and Burtonsville could benefit from Montgomery College’s tremendous programming - but accessing the existing facilities in Rockville, Germantown, or even downtown Silver Spring/Takoma Park14 is difficult, especially for students who must work.
We should bring Montgomery College to them along the Route 29 corridor by working with Montgomery College and property owners to find suitable vacant office space or land in which to expand higher education offerings that will help students on the path to college degrees and professional licenses.
Lifelong Career Development
Montgomery College and USG already offer terrific workforce, career development, and professional license courses. As County Executive, I would aggressively work with these institutions, companies, and industry organizations to fund and expand these opportunities by matching them with in-demand careers.
For instance, Montgomery College’s Automotive Technology program15, in partnership with area auto dealerships, provides training, certificates, and degrees for students to become auto technicians. This is an in-demand career that provides livable starting wages. The program currently has about 40 students. We should work with private industry partners and expand it so it has 400 students - and similarly invest in other career development programs with direct pathways to good-paying jobs.
We can also work to expand professional certification offerings for people of all ages and at all stages of their careers. The average age of students at USG is 2716, showing the enormous value of expanding its offerings for working adults looking to improve their training and resumes with undergraduate or graduate degrees.
Mental Health and Safety
Positive, safe, and affirming school environments
The last two years have provided an alarming wake-up call when it comes to safety and mental health resources in our schools. The pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis17, creating a tsunami of mental health needs - especially among our children - that we must address. Montgomery County’s crisis hotline saw a 25 percent increase in call volume from March 2020 to the summer of 2021.18 As County Executive, I will:
Further invest in organizations like Cornerstone Montgomery19, EveryMind.20 (which operates the county's 24/7 crisis intervention phone, text, and chat line) and the Lourie Center for Children’s Social and Emotional Wellness.21
Pursue creative solutions to bring more mental health counselors and resources to our schools, including both in-person counseling as well as leveraging the benefits of telemedicine.
Work with the school system to bring social and emotional wellness classes to our high school students to help them with conflict resolution and relationship management.
With the removal of the School Resource Officers (SROs) and without an effective replacement for school safety and security,22 we must do better to create an environment where all students are respected and safe.
I will work with students, parents, MCPS, and Police to create and reinstate a better School Resource Officer program so officers are in schools to prevent violence, respond more quickly to safety threats, and provide valuable mentorship to students. We won’t allow police in our schools to further contribute to the overpolicing of Black and brown residents of our County. School Resource Officers will not be used to enforce student disciplinary issues or non-violent crimes.
Social and emotional learning programs
After-school programs in Montgomery County like Identity23 and Brothers Academy24, which I have been proud to support, are great examples of positive youth development opportunities. As County Executive, I will expand social and emotional learning programs to assist in the holistic development of our youth in conjunction with achieving academic goals.
Mental health for our educators
Our teachers have been asked to take on extraordinary responsibilities both before and during COVID, taking on intense workloads and often having to serve in a counselor-type role on top of their core curriculum responsibilities. We must ensure their mental health and wellness as well. I will work with MCPS and the Board of Education to support budgets that establish realistic workloads, provide competitive wages and benefits (including health insurance with affordable mental health coverage), regularly assess staff wellbeing, and integrate wellness into professional development time and training.
Funding Our Schools
As County Executive, I will focus on the budgets for our entire education system first and bring in all stakeholders earlier in the annual budget-making process to ensure we’re investing not based on past-year spending but based on the best ways to improve student academic achievement, mitigate the achievement and opportunity gaps, and support teacher morale and performance. I’ll support the establishment of an Independent Oversight Board to manage the development and implementation of proposals and assigned goals.
The county’s appropriation of local tax dollars to MCPS is the school system’s largest single revenue source, making county support critical to the success of the schools. Over the last decade, the county has fallen short on this measure.
In Fiscal Year 2009, the county’s local appropriation to schools totaled $11,249 per student.25 The county cut this amount three years in a row during the Great Recession and then froze it for four straight years afterwards. As of Fiscal Year 2021, the county’s local appropriation totaled $10,922 per student, a three percent decrease from 2009 even as inflation increased by 23 percent.26 The failure of county per-pupil funding to keep up with inflation has been a challenge for MCPS.
School Capacity and Construction
While enrollment has declined slightly during the pandemic, MCPS still has many crowded schools, and its maintenance needs are substantial. To meet this challenge, I will be a County Executive who collaborates in an engaged and positive way with our governor, our state legislators, and other jurisdictions to make sure that we get our fair share of state aid.
State aid for school construction in Montgomery County has fallen every year the current County Executive has been in office. The county’s share of total state aid for school construction has also fallen, from 16 percent in Fiscal Year 202027 to 12 percent in Fiscal Year 2022.28 Meanwhile, 18 percent of all public school students in Maryland attended MCPS in the 2019-20 school year.29
The state pays 50 percent of the cost30 for school construction projects it agrees to co-finance in Montgomery County. That is lower than many other jurisdictions, including Howard County (55 percent), Baltimore County (57 percent), Frederick County (64 percent), Prince George’s County (70 percent) and Baltimore City (96 percent).
By working with the governor, the county’s state delegation, and leaders from around the state, to increase the state’s contribution to Montgomery County school construction, we can win tens of millions of dollars in funding to accelerate construction, ease overcrowding, and provide our students and educators with the highest-quality facilities.