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Statement from Karla Silvestre, President of the Board of Education on County Executive’s Recommended $6.8B FY 2024 Operating Budget
Public schools continue to be the foundation of our democracy. They are doing more for our young people today than ever before. Like everything else today, it costs more and more to run them. Schools continue to prepare our future workforce, taxpayers, citizens, and leaders. They continue to offer a path out of poverty for many. They are places where community exists, gathering families of all backgrounds around the education and well-being of children.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is at a crossroads after the pandemic. Academic trends are stabilizing, students need support like never before, and our families are asking for our help. We support the County Executive’s proposed budget and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to fully fund the Board of Education’s Operating Budget.
Schools are required to provide more services for student and staff well-being than ever. Schools feed children two or three meals per day. The youth mental health crisis that existed before the pandemic was made worse and now schools are addressing trauma and mental health concerns. Wellbeing programs provide counseling, mental health, restorative justice, social work support, and basic safety net services. In order to learn, students must feel both physically and emotionally safe. Yes, all of this in school and all of this is necessary and greatly increases the cost of education.
MCPS serves 160,000+ children in its 210 schools across the county from Silver Spring to Rockville to Clarksburg. We see signs of progress with foundational reading performance improving among our youngest learners, graduation rates increasing, and more students taking AP/IB courses and dual enrollment where they graduate with an associate degree at the same time they graduate high school. Families that left the school system during the pandemic are coming back from private and homeschool settings.
The budget proposed by the Board of Education invests in students and classrooms first. The budget makes investments in support of students and schools in the foundational subjects of mathematics and literacy, more teachers for English Language Learners, and other academic interventions across the system that are needed at this time. Most students in the United States are struggling in math, and Montgomery County is not immune to this national problem.
Today 43% of our students are children living in poverty, determined by rising enrollment in the Free and Reduced Meals program. Over 18% of our students are English Language Learners and our special education student population increases steadily every year. Inflation is increasing costs and per pupil funding has remained flat for nearly a decade. Now is the time to meet the needs and catch up to today’s reality.
This County and our elected leaders have long held strong support of the public school system as central to our identity as a community. We must continue this proud tradition of support because our diverse student body, as successful adults, will be the future of the County.
Second, the Board’s budget invests in our employees so that we are competitive in recruiting and retaining our teachers, administrators, and support staff. A highly qualified teacher in every classroom is key to improving reading and math and getting all students ready for college and the workforce. We must have competitive wages and an efficient and effective human resources system that is able to bring the best talent for our students quickly and effectively. Currently, we are 5th in the State of Maryland for starting salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree. For principals and administrators, we start out in 2nd place for new employees, but our most experienced administrators are 8th in the state in terms of salary, making them prime for early retirement and being recruited elsewhere.
Finally, the much needed state legislation, called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, requires ALL school districts in the state to raise their minimum teacher salary to $60,000 by 2026. Again, all of these conditions are necessary and come with costs to our local government.
The Board of Education’s goal is greater success for more students so they are prepared for college, career, and community. The Board is committed to ensuring transparency and accountability to our elected officials, our families, and our community at large.
Let’s together take the right path at this crossroad to ensure a bright future for our kids and for Montgomery County. Our students need this and our whole community needs this. Our future depends on it.
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