Taking a Stand for Education
By Patricia O’Neill, president
On Tuesday, May 5, local and state officials came together with community leaders, parents and educators to urge our Governor to fully fund public education. At the event, many of us signed a letter asking Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Jr., to fully fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which provides additional money to districts, like ours, where it is more expensive to provide an education. (See a previous blog post on this topic)
The Governor’s proposal to cut GCEI funding in half would cost Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) $17 million in Fiscal Year 2016, a year in which we are already making very difficult budget reductions.
I want to thank the Montgomery County Executive, the Montgomery County Council, our state delegates and senators, and my colleagues on the Board of Education for their continued support and advocacy for full state funding. I am also grateful for the continued collaboration of our employee associations, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA), and community organizations, including the Montgomery County NAACP and Identity, Inc.
The text of the letter we sent to Governor Hogan is below. If you agree with this broad group of stakeholders, we urge you to contact Governor Hogan and share your thoughts and concerns.
Dear Governor Hogan:
We are writing on behalf of the more than 154,000 students in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to urge you to restore cuts to the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI). This funding is crucial in our efforts to provide every student in MCPS with a world-class education that prepares them for success in the future.
As you know, MCPS is not only the largest district in the state, but it is the fastest growing, as well. We have added more than 14,000 students to our enrollment over the last six years and we expect that growth to continue in the years to come. Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 will be the seventh consecutive year in which our enrollment increases by more than 2,000 students. Amid this growth, more students than ever are coming to our district needing specific supports and services in order to ensure success. For instance, since 2009, the number of MCPS students receiving free and reduced-price meals services, an indicator of poverty, has increased by 43.5 percent. In that same time period, the number of students receiving English for Speakers of Other Languages services has increased by 32 percent.
In February, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a Fiscal Year 2016 Operating Budget Request that includes a reasonable 4 percent increase in spending. This budget will essentially allow MCPS to provide the same level of services to a growing number of students, manage increasing business costs, and provide our employees with modest compensation increases at a time we are asking them to pay more for their health benefits.
With local revenue lagging, the Montgomery County executive has recommended a 1.5 percent operating budget increase for MCPS, leaving a hole in our budget that we are working hard to fill. Our budget request already includes more than $8 million in savings and reductions and our interim superintendent, Larry A. Bowers, has put an expenditure and hiring freeze in place to build up reserves that will be put toward next year’s budget.
Mr. Bowers also has eliminated 40 positions from the MCPS central office, saving $4 million, and has held back the allocation of more than 370 positions to schools, which will save another $23 million. Any additional reductions could result in class size increases and a reduction of services to our most impacted students.
We know you are concerned about the fiscal condition of our state. So are we. But, as you know, educational investments are economic investments. This was affirmed in a recent study by noted economist Stephen Fuller that showed that the proposed FY 2016 investments in the MCPS operating and capital budgets—a combined $2.7 billion—would add about $4.12 billion to the state economy and create more than 20,000 jobs right here in our state. That is a strong return on investment by any measure.
We also know that the success of MCPS students is integral to the state of Maryland securing its national reputation as a leader in public education. MCPS students make up about 17 percent of the total enrollment in the state of Maryland and their impact on the state’s achievement is even greater than that. For instance, in 2014, our students accounted for more than 30 percent of the Advanced Placement exams taken in the state and more than 37 percent of those that earned a college-ready score of 3 or higher. So investing in MCPS is good for Maryland, too.
We urge you to fully fund public education so we can provide our students with the instruction, programs, and support that prepares them for the 21st century and secures the future of our communities and our state.
Patricia B. O’Neill, President, Montgomery County Board of Education
Larry A. Bowers, Interim Superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools
Merle Cuttitta, President, SEIU, Local 500
James P. Koutsos, President, MCAAP
Doug Prouty, President, Montgomery County Education Association
Frances Frost, President, MCCPTA
Byron Johns, Chair, Parents Council, NAACP
Diego Uriburu, Executive Director, Identity, Inc.