Medium: Ensuring Every Montgomery County Student Can Realize Their Full Potential

By Ben Shnider

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Ensuring that every County resident has an equal opportunity to realize their full potential starts with ensuring an excellent public education system that extends from pre-k to postsecondary schooling. Until every child in our County has access to the same excellent education opportunities, we fall short of living up to our progressive label and fulfilling our economic potential.

To realize this ambitious vision, we must implement universal pre-K and tuition-free Montgomery College, ensure we’re looking out for our students’ well-being beyond the classroom, relieve the considerable administrative burden placed on our teachers, and make certain that a school’s zip code does not predetermine its level of investment.

Universal Pre-K, Tuition-Free Montgomery College & Vocational Education

Ensuring universal access to quality pre-K is critical for maximizing success throughout a student’s MCPS career and beyond. Whenever a Montgomery County family must forgo this investment, our entire community suffers. For years we’ve talked about implementing universal pre-K in Montgomery County. Yes, there is a notable price tag. However, by proactivelycollaborating with MCPS and the next County Executive, plus learning from experiences elsewhere, our community is more than capable of establishing a timely and feasible path for achieving this ambitious, yet essential goal.

Too many families in our community also lack access to postsecondary education due to the prohibitive cost. As the cost of attending a four year college grows, the need for affordable access to community colleges increases across the nation. This includes Montgomery College, where tuition has increased over the past several years as financial aid eligibility has narrowed. We must work to ensure that every MCPS graduate can attend Montgomery College tuition-free and is matched with local employers along the way. This starts by bridging the gap between students who do not qualify for existing financial assistance programs at all levels (or at least without going into massive debt), yet are still unable to afford community college without help. Other communities, including AlleganyGarrett and Prince George’s Countieshere in Maryland, are working to realize goal. It’s time we do the same.

Montgomery College is also an integral part of our County’s comprehensive education system. Building upon one’s experience at MCPS, the College not only provides our students with a solid foundation for success at a four year institution, but also with a direct path towards a rewarding and well-paying job that does not require a bachelor’s degree. The College’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education Services are crucial for enhancing the ability of our residents (and businesses) to compete in the 21st Century economy. Collaborating with both MCPS and Montgomery College, the County must also reevaluate and expand the full range of vocational training programs, so students from all walks of life have unfettered access to the tools required for success throughout their adult lives, with or without pursuing a traditional college education.

Safeguarding the Holistic Needs of our Students

A positive learning environment is an essential ingredient for students to succeed. We must proactively confront bullying and harassment in our schools and make suicide prevention a priority for MCPS. Doing so requires a collaborative approach among public and private partners in the community.

We must also be cognizant of the full range of environmental factors that influence students’ ability to excel. Many students of color — and from lower-income families in particular — lack the full range of wrap-around services that are available in more affluent neighborhoods. All schools, regardless of zip code, must offer the same high-quality opportunities. We should draw on the community school model to target additional resources, like therapy and healthcare, to under-resourced schools. As with efforts against bullying and suicide prevention, this effort involves MCPS itself and a meaningful partnership with other public and private entities, so that the holistic needs of our students are fully addressed.

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Relieving our Teachers’ Economic Burden

The pressure on our teachers, as they contend with the demands of a dramatically increasing student population, also hinders student success. These increasing pressures including taking precious time away from classroom instruction to meet the artificial standards of excessive standardized testing. Also, thoughtless public relations stunts by elected officials like Governor Hogan, such as his unilateral mandate against opening Maryland’s public schools before Labor Day, dramatically impair the professional development and planning time that our teachers need to meet the needs of the 21st Century classroom. Proactive, sustained leadership is vital to reverse this harmful action. In addition, we must collaborate with our General Assembly Delegation to confront the Governor’s overall hostility towards public education.

Investing Equitably in our Schools & Alleviating School Overcrowding

Providing adequate resources for a quality education system in Montgomery County at a sustained rate, competitive with nearby jurisdictions, is a prerequisite for a stronger local economy. We must invest our education resources equitably, so that no student is held back for any reason, including where one lives in the County. In part, this requires a reexamination of the MCPS Capital Improvements Program (CIP), to make sure funds are applied strictly where and how they are most needed. It is also prudent for the Board of Education to acknowledge the importance of redrawing school cluster boundaries intermittently with the goal of using existing facilities more efficiently and equitably. In addition, we should re-examine our requirements for building new schools with an eye toward making new construction quicker and cheaper and we should consider reopening certain schools that were closed when MCPS enrollment was falling. Applying lessons, in whole or in combination, from the approach of other growing jurisdictions to address infrastructure challenges in the public schools will be essential to ensure we’re investing our money equitably and moving urgently to addressing overcrowding. The underlying goal must be adequate infrastructure conducive to a positive learning environment for every student.

Ben Shnider