In Education, Montgomery County, MD, What's At Stake

Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nitza’s house,
in Lod, when this question was asked of them: Is study greater or is action greater?
Rabbi Tarfon answered and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered and said: Study is greater.
The others answered and said: Study is greater, because it leads to action. — Kiddushin 40b

Jewish tradition teaches us that study leads to action. This is the fourth and last in a series of weekly emails on specific county issues, walking you through what could happen here based on the outcome of the primary happening tomorrow, Tuesday, June 26.

Locally, primary election voters from one party usually choose who runs Montgomery County for the next four years, and that determines what happens to everyone who lives here. We want you to go to the voting booth on primary day knowing what’s at stake in Montgomery County. And we hope this is a valuable resource and we encourage you to forward and share it — every vote will really matter.

Unequal education: the short version

We can be proud of our public school system here in Montgomery County – it is a major reason why people choose to live here. But we haven’t invested the money to make sure that every student gets a quality education from the youngest age to ignite a love of learning, and to help each student over the years chart a course for their life after high school. If you look at various measures of school excellence, the highest rated Montgomery County schools are in whiter, more affluent areas of the county. To change that narrative, we need to invest in building and upgrading school facilities, quality preschool, good vocational education, access to community college, and supplemental after-school programs. Elected officials need to make sure our students and schools get adequate and equitable resources so none of our kids have to settle for less.

Visit our election resources page for more information about the primary and candidates, and to find a shareable version of this email.

Go deeper: kids in Montgomery County need your help

Our tradition teaches us that it isn’t enough to teach our children, we must be sure that we honor each student while they are learning. Maimonides, a great Jewish teacher and scholar, says, “The teacher shouldn’t sit on a chair while his students sit on the ground; either they all sit on the ground or they all sit on chairs” (Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Torah Study, 4:2). Education should lift up the humanity and dignity of each student and we should strive for equity in the classroom. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go to get to this goal in Montgomery County.

Invest in better and more school buildings so every student is “sitting in a chair”

Our impressive schools attract many new residents to Montgomery County, but we’re not building enough school space to keep up with new students. In the last seven years enrollment has grown by an astounding 15,000 students, increasing the number of students by 10%. Class sizes have increased and thousands of students are being taught in portable units instead of buildings. Why? Our Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) budget had been almost flat since the Great Recession, until property and recordation taxes were raised in 2016. Under the Hogan administration, Montgomery County has consistently been short-changed on state funding for school construction. The lack of investment and dramatic increases in number of students means we are now in desperate need of more and updated school facilities.

Help kids with fewer family resources do better in school

Not surprisingly, kids from affluent families and communities get better grades than kids from working class and poor communities. There are many reasons why kids from poorer families have a harder time in school, including parents who are working long hours and don’t have the money to pay for tutors, extracurriculars, and academic help beyond what MCPS can provide. For some kids, there also are barriers due to language and cultural differences. We must implement policies to stop handicapping poorer kids while their richer peers thrive in school. One model is to create community schools, with services for kids and families that include a connection to county support services, health care, mental health providers, tutoring, and more.

Universal Pre-K to give all kids a strong foundation

Little kids from wealthier and whiter families are more likely to attend a high quality, enriching preschool. We must ensure that working class and poor children get the care and education they need to put them on the path to school success. Recently, only half the children entering kindergarten in Montgomery County were judged to be ready. To achieve universal access to pre-K, we need a partnership between our public schools and private preschools to create a network of preschools that offer quality education for the students and good paying jobs for the providers. We will need to add more pre-K capacity, train more teachers and aides, locate preschools across the county and near transit, and make the programs affordable to all income levels. All of this will require substantial funding, from a combination of state and local sources.

Vocational education and community college help young people get good jobs

All our students should have the opportunity to prepare for college and should be supported in achieving their educational goals. We should also help young people study for good jobs that don’t require a BA – just as we work to ensure that every job comes with decent pay and benefits. We need to work with high schools, community colleges, and local employers to offer career development programs tailored to good jobs that are available here in our community. We also need to make community college affordable to all the graduates of Montgomery County public schools.

Kids need great after-school programs

When school lets out, too many kids spend the rest of the day doing whatever – and going hungry. We don’t have enough after-school enrichment programs that help kids have fun, keep learning, and get the meals they might not be able to get at home. Recent studies indicate that these programs improve kids’ academic performance. We have a pilot program here in Montgomery County called Excel Beyond the Bell that combines programming for kids with outreach to parents, and that is a model we think should be expanded.

We need the right partners in office to help

Every kid in our county deserves a great start in life with a quality education that supports their learning and growth. We know what it will take for every child Black, white, or brown and poor, working class, or affluent to get that chance. It will take bold leadership from a Governor and County Executive who are committed to doing the right thing for our students. It will take collaboration and accountability from our Maryland state legislators, County Council, and Board of Education, and courage to do what is right even when it is hard. It is crucial that we elect leaders who will be strong partners to JUFJ and our allies to raise the resources and enact the policies we need to support all our kids.

In solidarity,

Laura, Isaac, Jeff, Jayme, Fran, and the rest of the JUFJ Montgomery County Leadership Team

Commit to voting your values during early voting and on primary day, Tuesday, June 26.

Visit our election resources page for more information about the primary and candidates.

Share this message with your friends and family!

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